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Do the Liberal Arts have a PR problem?


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When one pictures college life, often images of lecture halls packed with hundreds of students on their laptops come to mind. People do not often think of backpacking in the Sierra, making pottery, or skiing as part of the college curriculum. But at Sierra Nevada College, Nevada’s only private Liberal Arts university, one would be more likely to see a teacher actively participating in small-group discussions than to see a teacher only lecturing. 

Core101 classSNC is tiny by university standards, but Liberal Arts schools are generally small. This leads one to wonder whether it is be- cause the liberal arts are dying, or if students today are more unsure about their future in the workplace and thus have difficulty pursuing their dreams. When giving a tour to 30 high school seniors recently, Steve Berry, dean of Admissions at SNC, asked the students what the Liberal Arts are. None of them were able to answer, even though they had all admitted to hearing the term before.

Admissions explains Liberal Arts

Nick Anderson, assistant director of Ad- missions for SNC, has also experienced blank stares and confused notions about the Liberal Arts.

“Sometimes it’s just a term they’ve heard thrown around loosely you can take as a major at a larger state institution,” said Anderson.

Not only does SNC strive to provide an excellent well-rounded education only possible through a Liberal Arts approach, Anderson considers it the job of the admissions office to “let them know that [the Liberal Arts are] a very broad-based curriculum as opposed to a specific professional approach.”

A lot of students hear “liberal” and “art” and assume it has to do with politics or painting, Anderson explains, which leads to some students choosing another college over SNC.

“It’s tough” marketing the liberal arts to a young generation, Anderson said. “It’s a lot of one-on-one interaction, a marketing piece isn’t going to do what an alumni in our office can do, having lived through it themselves.”

A flier won’t do the Liberal Arts justice, Anderson says. “Hey, look at this Liberal Arts card,” doesn’t have the pizzazz to capture the attention of a prospective student who might not even know what the Liberal Arts are.

Justin Pope of Yahoo News shared that research has tied college majors to salaries, which can make a liberal arts degree look unappealing. However, what many people don’t realize, he shared, is that liberal arts is more about teaching style than subject matter, which has shown to leave students better prepared for life and work.

Liberal Arts Skills

According to the SNC website, “Our definition of a Liberal Arts education is that it is not only a study of academic disciplines but also a mode of instruction that emphasizes applying knowledge and skills learned in one context to new contexts, and on employing interpersonal skills like teamwork, courage, creativity and judgment to solve complex, interrelated problems.”

These skills enable students to go out into the work world, not only with skills for their specific major, but also life skills like leadership, global awareness and collaboration.

“A Liberal Arts education is designed to help students develop a range of intellectual capacities that can be transferred to solve problems in a multitude of areas, and that at the same time enable students to think on their own and to generate creative, independent thoughts,” Berry said.

Dominick Montelaro, a transfer business student from Sonoma State University, said that the liberal arts facet of SNC made the school very appealing. He said that the teachers at SNC are more invested in what students are learning.

“It promotes a lot of intellectual thought and outside-the-box thinking,” Anderson said.

Another main aspect of a Liberal Arts focused education is that it allows students to ‘bridge the gap’ between subjects, incorporating science into their fine arts class, and bringing psychology into their sustain- ability class.

“A Liberal Arts college will provide the student with the tools that they need to follow through on their chosen career path, rather than being limited to a technical job-focused education. It opens up a whole new spectrum of broader opportunities,” Anderson said. “What we’re seeing is that a Liberal Arts degree is becoming more and more powerful because it’s not so degree- specific. When you are faced with changing your career seven times, it gives you a lot of opportunity to not be so focused and specific, but rather broad and adaptable.”

A Liberal Arts school provides a lot of freedom and leniency in the curriculum, not only for students, but for teachers as well.

“It entails that you have a little more leeway in creativity in how you run your class and what you can teach,” said Lizzie Thibodeau, the director of Student Affairs and Housing.

Though not a professor at SNC, Thibodeau interacts directly with both stu- dents and staff, and recognizes the benefits of a broader, better-rounded education that only a small Liberal Arts college like SNC can offer.

“A Liberal Arts college is going to be a great option because it allows for a lot of freedom; it allows someone to find them- selves. We are trying to transform lives as best as possible by giving students who do not know what they want to do the tools and this broad-based knowledge to let them internally funnel down what they want to do,” Anderson said.

The faculty of SNC believes that it is doubly beneficial for the students to attend a Liberal Arts college that is small and private.

“The unique thing about our school is that there are people who genuinely care about you,” Thibodeau said.

The intimate classroom setting and the student-teacher ratio ensures that the students always have a faculty member avail- able to help them out.

“What President Gillette is doing with this flipped classroom and a lot of interaction between the faculty members and the students builds heavily on the Liberal Arts because it allows a true liberal arts education to be received rather than sitting through a Liberal Arts lecture,” Anderson said. “In some of the classes you are able to take here, you’re being 100 percent physically engaged within the classroom. That really gets any message about liberal arts to sink in rather than just hearing it in a lecture hall.”

The core curriculum at SNC is different from many other schools as well. Students have to take the normal math and English classes, but those are interspersed with mandatory arts and philosophy classes.

“The first 30 credits that you can take at SNC are a mix of everything that is offered on this campus, and I think that is extremely powerful because it gives students the tools to find out a solid path to finish up four years of college,” Anderson said.

The core curriculum allows students to try out a multitude of different subjects and find what works for them before they choose his or her major.

“It is opening their minds to a broader scope than what they think they can do,” Thibodeau said. “If you have the opportunity to come to a liberal arts school, you’re going to get a better education all around.”

Liberal Arts schools prepare students for not only their major, but also how to solve problems, be a leader, and work with others.

“A Liberal Arts education is an education for life, and will help [students] adapt to and thrive in an ever changing world,” Berry said.

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Do the Liberal Arts have a PR problem?