Westmont Magazine "Success" and the Liberal Arts

There still seems to be a lot of confusion out there about college, vocational success, the liberal arts, and the prestige of a research university. I believe it results from a lack of clarity about the fundamental purposes of education and the actual experience in American higher education today.

What are the qualities that contribute to success, both vocationally and in life? By success I don’t mean just achieving a high salary or corporate leadership. I have in mind the access to significant roles or positions, the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.

It should be clear that success does not result simply from an ability to memorize facts or pass examinations. Nor does a degree from a big school impress people for long. Sooner or later we must demonstrate that we can do things, make good judgments, express ourselves clearly, understand the world and ourselves, work effectively with others, and, yes, demonstrate that we are people of character and integrity, sensitive, disciplined, and dependable.

What does all of this have to do with the liberal arts? Well, just think for a minute about the purpose or mission of a large research university, or of a vocational/technical college. Then consider the mission of Westmont, a Christian, residential, liberal arts college.

Our mission statement talks about our students developing intellectual competence, which goes far beyond acquiring knowledge and includes understanding and making critical judgments and communicating them effectively. We also exist to enable our students to grow socially and become people of Christian character. And in all things, we care deeply about their growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Does the kind of education we provide our students make a difference vocationally? Absolutely, for people with intellectual and social competence, and with deep Christian commitment, are in great demand and short supply. We are gratified and reassured by the opportunities given our graduates in the marketplace, but also in the finest graduate programs in the country, and in roles of responsibility within government and the church. Every area of our society needs people of competence and Christian character.

I don’t think the recent political leaders have convinced many that character no longer matters. And the public has become skeptical about the experience of undergraduate students at the large universities. A rigorous residential, liberal arts education is still the finest vocational preparation for a career of significance. Add to that a pervasive Christian purpose and Westmont offers the best of all worlds.

These matters are too important to be ignored or confused. At stake is the leadership of our society, the church, and the family. When our educational priorities are straight and our strategies are clear and effective, the results will be assured and extremely important for the future of our church and society.