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The BA still matters

By Catherine Burgess

Ah, the romance of the liberal arts – the study of language, literature and the social sciences. For some, the romance of the arts seems to have faded, as the sciences and technology appear to become the dominate forces. This raises the question: does the bachelor of arts still matter?

CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi and author Yann Martel were recently interviewed on globecampus.ca, offering their take on why an arts degree does indeed still matter, arguing against a view that the BA is becoming “devalued.” As two successful, prominent figures in the Canadian arts community, both with arts degrees, they raise valuable points about the worth of the BA in a world seemingly ruled by science and technology.

Arts programs cultivate “well-rounded, critical-thinking, creative humans,” Mr. Ghomeshi pointed out. As noted by the pair, there will always be a demand for just such a university graduate, one who has benefited from a program that not only allows, but requires its students to explore a wide variety of interests. Mr. Ghomeshi stated that in a rapidly changing world where there is no way of knowing for certain what job opportunities will look like in coming years, there will always be some kind of employment opportunity for critical-thinking, problem-solving arts grads. Arts students, worry not.

When discussing their education, one of the most frequently asked questions that an arts student receives is “What are you going to do with a BA?” Arts student John Michael Bennett has an answer to this question: “It’s a stepping stone,” he says, adding that the BA is a ticket into further education or work endeavours.

“In a society where science is definitely dominating and professional degrees are sometimes seen as worth more, I can see where a bachelor of arts might get its bad rep, but I do definitely see the worth of a bachelor of arts, whether it’s a stepping stone to go on to grad school or a stepping stone into another job,” says Mr. Bennett. “Even the things that you can gather from an arts degree ... those skills can be utilised in jobs later on.”

Not every arts student has an answer when asked what they’ll do with their BA. Unlike professional programs such as engineering and nursing, arts programs do not necessarily lead students on a direct path to a specific career.

Denise Reynolds, career development co-ordinator for the Faculty of Arts and ArtsWorks co-ordinator, says that it is fairly common for arts students to be a little unsure of the next step after graduation. The ArtsWorks program (which can be found at mun.ca/arts/artsworks) is a great way of preparing students who may want to begin thinking about life after the undergrad, whether they wish to pursue employment or graduate studies. “[The program] is geared at trying to make people more aware of the skills that they are acquiring through their studies ... regardless of which subject area that might be,” she explains.

Reynolds says she always likes to remind students that “no matter what you think your path might be it’s never going to be that. It’s always going to deviate and go in different directions. Maybe it’ll be something close to what you planned but it’s certainly never going to be exactly what you planned.”

The broad teachings of an arts program certainly seem like ample preparation for just such a future.
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