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December 24, 2007

Letter to the Editor: Liberal arts grads can reach personal, financial goals too

(Regarding John Zapel's letter on liberal arts school graduates DJC Dec. 17)

I imagine you've already received an outpouring of offended “world-changers” with liberal arts degrees, but I feel compelled to add my voice.

The topic of the original article about student debt (DJC Dec. 5) is one that has been on my mind recently, as Pomona College, my alma mater, recently made the decision to replace all student loans with scholarships. Thus, a student who takes a loan to go to community college will end off in worse financial shape than a student who is admitted to Pomona. However, the tone of the statement was what I would most like to comment on:

I find Mr. Zapel's letter (“No liberal arts grads, please”) offensive and ignorant, reaching its most distasteful when he insinuates that liberal arts graduates “lack a hard work ethic.” As an alumnus of Pomona College, an institution that embraces the liberal arts tradition, I can attest to the level of self-sufficiency and intelligence required to earn the degree that Mr. Zapel so readily scorns. The student body of my college, and others like it, represents the future of America's job force: workers whose knowledge base is broad and adaptable, who approach tasks with an open mind and the ability to learn quickly.

I have profound respect for any student putting him or herself through school, whether it is community college or a liberal arts program. And I can see how such an experience will, for some, bring out a heightened level of maturity and responsibility. However, for Mr. Zapel to proclaim that he has “no interest in hiring anyone with a … liberal arts degree of any kind” indicates his reasoning that all liberal arts students have their tuition paid for by their families or aggressive loans, and, as a result, are poor employees.

Good and bad workers exist in equal measure in all academic institutions. The reality is that undergraduate schooling of any kind will not engender deep-seated change in one's work ethic. This is a skill that, as Mr. Zapel alludes to, is learned in primary school and in the home. Likewise, working and paying one's way through school won't teach a person responsibility that she or he didn't already have. I find it misleading and unhelpful that Mr. Zapel discourages students from pursuing a liberal arts degree on the basis of short-term financial returns, a comparison that he makes with no hard evidence beyond his own bias. Rather than worrying about his or her starting salary right out of school, a person should consider what type of degree will best lead toward the attainment of long-term personal, academic, and financial goals.

I'll tell you one thing: my liberal arts school taught me formal logic, a class that I highly recommend for Mr. Zapel.

Elizabeth Wiggs


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