Effective Education Encompasses Both STEM and Liberal Arts

For several years the debate has raged over which course of study is better. STEM or liberal arts? Recent research shows that when considering STEM and liberal arts, and is better than either-or. Effective education encompasses both fields, and workers need both sets of skills.

As world communities become less isolated and more connected by communication and travel, issues are global rather than local. Neither STEM skills nor liberal arts knowledge alone can take care of global issues and concerns.

In today’s world the knowledge and processes that require STEM skills are important to a wide range of jobs both inside and outside of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Georgetown report STEM states “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) occupations are critical to our continued economic competitiveness because of their direct ties to innovation, economic growth, and productivity, even though they will only be 5 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy by 2018.”

For the other 95 percent of the jobs it is important for today’s students to explore both areas.

Demand for STEM skills and competencies is strong in fast-growing occupations outside STEM. Work gets done by computers and technology that require STEM skills in fields such as healthcare services, business and professional services. Manufacturing, mining, utilities and transportation fields require fewer workers because of technology. However the remaining jobs in these fields demand workers with STEM skills and competencies who can use highly technical equipment and robotics.

Workers involved in social and humanitarian fields, such as healthcare or education policy, and those solving policy, poverty or hunger issues, need basic scientific knowledge. They must be able to develop solutions and policies based on knowledge of how the physical world works. They need the ability to look at and evaluate evidence crucial to decision making and arrive at logical conclusions.

In a similar way, STEM workers such as engineers can benefit from the awareness they can develop in taking liberal arts courses. In “The Power of Partnership and Pairings: Why STEM and Liberal Arts are better together,” David Rosowsky the Provost and Senior Vice President at University of Vermont explains. Engineers need to develop solutions to complex solutions, he says, and it’s important they are prepared. “And those we prepare to take on global challenges, and indeed to live and work around the globe, must be culturally sensitive and competent. The necessary communications skills required now reach far beyond writing and speaking to include the digital, the cultural, the sustainable, and the socially responsible.” The power of STEM and liberal arts together will develop communication that bridges scientific and cultural worlds.

Developing STEM skills and studying humanities involve similar thinking, says Shalina Chatlani, associate editor at Education DIVE. “The types of skills that a student gains building a robot, which involves being presented with an issue and thinking critically toward a solution, complement one’s capacity to dissect the core issues in a story and think how each of the elements — the characters, the plot, the cliff-hanger — all work together.”

Businesses with tuition assistance programs that support diversified courses of study will develop workers who can lead them in innovation and productivity. These will be able to apply specific knowledge and communicate in ways that help businesses grow and meet global demands. As employees broaden their education and take courses that lead them to divergent thinking patterns, they will gain skills as workers and businesses will gain workers that can develop creative, innovative solutions to issues. Looking for ways that STEM knowledge and hard facts and liberal arts creativity and innovation can complement each other gives both workers and businesses an advantage.