It’s more than just a degree or major.
When it comes to Beloit College and a liberal arts education, it’s about developing skills that go beyond a specific job.
Ann Davies, provost and dean of Beloit College, said over the last four to five years, the college has stressed the development of skills that will help students in any job they end up taking after graduation.
“When it comes to how we approach a liberal education, we want our students to have a specific major and become experts in that area, but also recognize their job may not be directly related to what they are studying,” she said. “We still see that as an important part of the intellectual development of our students.”
Employers want to see a new hire be able to tackle complex issues right from day one, Davies said.
“Most employers say it’s most important that you have students with skills in complex problem solving, clear communication and the ability to think critically,” she said. “We believe in that, and we see a major as a contributor to all of that.”
Davies said on average people will have seven different jobs in their lifetime. Each job could be related or completely different from what the student pursued as a major.
“The question to ask is what is the relationship between the first and third or fifth job,” she said. “What we have been working on over the past four to five years is to recognize our students benefit from thinking through all four years and getting them to explore their options and develop certain goals.”
A specific major is a big part of that goal, however, getting the skills to perform can almost become even more important than learning the specific job.
“I think where we shifted is taking seriously the relationship between a liberal education and the development of one’s fulfilling career,” Davies said.
In the past, students could have a “reactive mode” to a job and learn on the fly, but instead the college is looking to give students the tools to show employers what they can do right away.
“I think what I’m finding with employers is they want to feel confident that they are hiring employees with the capacity to learn what they need to learn,” she said. “You need to have base knowledge and basic skills, but you have to be able to deal with the complexities of the job.”
Beloit College has added a new requirement called “Liberal Arts in Practice,” which requires students to use their knowledge from the classroom to the real world in the form of an internship, research and other areas.
“One of the most important parts of learning is that students are transferring what they learn in a traditional classroom to new context,” she said. “That’s one of the ways you deepen learning.”
Davies said a lot of the learning happens outside of the classroom, so the college is interested in finding ways to “capture” and “advance the learning to connect the real world with the classroom.”