Business colleges have traditionally stuck to narrow curriculums focused on management, sales and finance. But the success of liberal arts grads in business fields is making today’s top business colleges broaden their scope to become distinctly liberal arts-inclusive—taking advantage of the unique benefits a liberal arts education can offer.
Across the country, from The University of Texas to NYU, over 35 business colleges have introduced new, liberal arts-oriented programming in recent years. They’re combining practical business knowledge with tried-and-true liberal arts educational methods, like open dialogue, critical analysis, and engagement with complex concepts like social justice and cultural criticism.
Read on to learn how and why modern business programs are emulating liberal arts studies.
Broadening Business Student Perspectives with Liberal Arts Studies
Once you start a liberal arts program, you’ll be encouraged to participate in a vibrant learning environment where great texts and teachers spark exchanges of ideas about citizenship, personhood, humanity, and other social issues.
Many business schools have recently begun advertising new ‘liberal arts-inspired’ studies that encourage this kind of social analysis in their own students.
For example, the University of Michigan unveiled a new “MERGE” program in 2014, aiming to “explore business’s place in society through discussion, research projects and guest speakers.”
Joe Kuderer, a corporate finance student who took courses through MERGE, says its liberal arts tilt shifted his perspective: "It put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of my classes," he says. Kuderer learned business doesn’t have to be "just be focused on profits," but also on community-building and social justice—an idea liberal arts students have long championed.
Offering Historical Context through Liberal Arts and Humanities
While many liberal arts students choose to study history, it’s not traditionally a subject favoured by those who study business, financing, or management.
In Stanford professor Thomas Ehrlich’s opinion, “business students believe history started yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m. and can’t imagine life without computers or automobiles. But undergraduate business is supposed to give a much broader sense of the landscape of which business is a part.”
Graduates of liberal arts studies know today’s world is steeped in history, and can only be effectively analyzed with a solid understanding of the history that shaped the status quo.
“That’s why it’s so important that liberal learning and business be integrated,” says Ehrlich.
A great example of this integration is the University of Richmond’s new class parings, wherein humanities and business courses are made complimentary. For example, they pair neoclassical economics with Victorian literature for enhanced historical understanding.
Liberal Arts Training Creates Well-Rounded Citizens
Top liberal arts schools are known for creating well-rounded, informed, critical thinkers and global citizens. Experts say business schools are emulating that aspect of liberal arts education as an appeal to parents and prospective students.
Liberal arts-oriented business degrees are being advertised as lucrative investments that give students an edge on today’s competitive employment field.
Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program, says liberal arts skills are well known for boosting business grads’ hiring potential: “The people who get ahead have a broader range of skills and talents.”
And Michigan University’s business school director says liberal arts elements appeal to parents "wanting their children to have a broad-based education that will expand their minds and vision.”
When even elite business schools are recognizing the value of liberal arts learning methods, you know liberal arts school is the way to go.