I am a product of a liberal arts education. As such, I am an unapologetic believer in the power of the liberal arts. Every alumnus of Davis & Elkins College should be as well.

Inside Higher Education published a survey of business executives who made clear they not only highly value a college education, they overwhelmingly prefer graduates with skills associated with the liberal arts. These business leaders indicated that while students may be prepared for entry-level positions by virtue of their bachelor’s degree, there is greater concern that today’s graduates can advance in the workplace. To be precise, only 34% believed students had the skills needed to be promoted.

This is where the importance of the liberal arts is measured. According to these business leaders, the skill set at the core of a liberal arts education is the key to lifelong learning. These core skills prepare liberal arts graduates for their first job as well as their last job, and everything in between.

What is at this core of a liberal arts education? The following eight priorities, valued most highly by business executives and hiring managers, is an excellent place to start:

  • Able to effectively communicate orally
  • Critical thinking/analytical reasoning
  • Ethical judgment and decision-making
  • Able to work effectively in teams
  • Able to work independently (prioritize, manage time)
  • Self-motivated, initiative, proactive: ideas/solutions
  • Able to communicate effectively in writing
  • Can apply knowledge/skills to real-world settings.

At Davis & Elkins College, like other liberal arts institutions across this country, this list is at the heart of the educational experience of our students. While there are most certainly job skills learned in our classrooms, the training received is for life. Regardless of career or setting, these core skills become a part of the very fabric of a liberal arts graduate.

During my tenure as President of D&E, I have talked with scores of graduates from the 1940s through the two decades of the 2000s. As they reminisced about their D&E experience and the professors and staff who guided them, time and again they would comment on the wholistic nature of their educational experience. Their time on this campus molded and shaped the very being of the person who would move beyond this campus to encounter the world. More than simply having job skills imparted, they described discovering a broad knowledge of the world and being inspired to continue learning, growing and enjoying the journey.

For the past 117 years D&E has prided itself on being a private, residential, Presbyterian-related, liberal arts institution of higher education. Each of these descriptive words is central to who we are as a college. While some in our day and age are debating the future of the liberal arts, I remain an apologist.  I am who I am today, in large part, because I experienced the power of the liberal arts at a small private residential church-related college. How grateful I am to serve as the president of an institution that remains true to its heritage and will continue to transform the lives of students … body, mind and spirit … through our unwavering commitment to the power of the liberal arts.

The journey continues….

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College