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Re-thinking Liberal Arts (Updated 11/14/15)

A new take on the structure of liberal arts college structure that adds a substantial internship component.

Photo of Nicole Cote

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Our target audience is all-encompassing. The students who would actually participate in this type of curriculum would be current college students; however, we believe that this idea would inspire high school students to go to college, as it would provide an affordable and practical, industry-focused, education. This idea would re-imagine the cost of college because it pairs the student with an industry connection who would then cover the fees for a semester.

The idea that our team thought of for this challenge is rather simple (though we think will lead to effective results); it plays on a current widely-accepted education system: the private liberal arts college, and re-shapes the "liberal arts" aspect. 

Normally at a liberal arts college, there are a set number of general classes that you need to take, in addition to those required for the degree. Typically these are: English, math, a lab science, and perhaps religion, art or philosophy, etc.

Our idea is to:

1) remove these "general education" courses, as they are typically not required elsewhere in the world (which is why other degrees are able to be done in three years, instead of four).

2) replace them with mandatory internships in the industry of the student's intended major. Thus, if we remove those four courses,  we would now have one internship during each year of the degree. 

The importance of the internships:

Through the internships we would hope to have the schools pair-up with companies across numerous industries in order to make this component successful (so that every student has an internship). The internships would be considered unpaid (in that the student wouldn't receive a direct salary); however, the company would agree to pay the student's tuition for that semester. 

Through this process, students would be substantially benefitted, as about half of their tuition would be paid for by a company, and as they would be able to establish up to four industry connections to utilize when they graduate! By means of this new curriculum, students would be able to gain industry contacts for letters of reference/networking, but also industry skills.

It is astonishing how many companies say that the degree is required, but job-specific experience is needed before students can apply for the job, and thus that colleges (on their own) do not provide all of the skills needed for employment. This new system would thus provide students the opportunity to get into the industry more quickly after graduation!

Having a job sooner would allow for financial stability, and the opportunity to pay for any other student loans (if needed) , and over all reduces cost of the degree. 

Who Gains and How?:

- Students: able to benefit from a strong academic/theoretical background in a subject, and real-life industry application, which will boost resumes and job prospects.

- Schools: involved institutions will be able to build relationships/partnerships with local business (large and small). This is helpful as all schools continuously looking for sponsors or donations/development contributions.  Also, having a tight connection between schools and companies allows the careers offices to place more students before graduation, which thus allows the schools to have a better percentage of college graduates with jobs (this makes the school's overall rating significantly higher).

- Companies: businesses are always looking for fresh, creative blood. Getting a new influx of interested students every semester will allow them to put a new set of eyes on everything they are doing - new opinions, new feedback, new creative ideas will all ensue. This will also allow them to view a large number of potential employees and put them to the test. It's almost a recruitment strategy in and of itself. They will be able to see the true work ethics of potential new-hires.

Hypothetical Example:

Jenn is a college freshman attending a small 4-year public college in New York. Her college requires that all students (no matter the major) complete the following liberal arts/core classes: an English course, a math course, a lab science course, and a social sciences course.

Jenn is majoring in English, and so the English requirement isn't a burden, and is easily satisfied through her normal major requirements, but the others do not contribute to her knowledge in her field or her hire-ability after school.

With our option of re-thinking the liberal arts, Jenn can, instead, switch one or all of these courses for internship(s) in local business that can be both more applicable to her academic field and to her needs for seeking employment after graduation.

Jenn has decided that she will swap all four courses for internships (completing one each fall semester). Through this experience she was able to work directly in publishing and journalism (two fields she was thinking of pursuing professionally) through internships with Penguin Books,  Scholastic Publishing, and TimeOut New York. She was also able to explore a field where she could use her language skills and creativity in an entirely different setting through a Public Relations internship at Barney's New York. 

Now, Jenn has both the strong academic background in English literature, and marketable skills for her resume in publishing, journalism, and PR. She has cross-disciplinary applicable experience (unlike what would have been provided with Spanish or Calc) She also, now, can meet the "x years of experience in the field" requirement that most jobs (even entry-level jobs) have. Jenn is now able to present the strongest possible resume on her applications for employment!

Survey (including our Experience Map) for Preliminary Feedback

The group has created the following form for feedback on this idea, which includes a link to a textual experience map explaining the idea in more detail.

The survey can be found here:

We would greatly appreciate your participation in this! 

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

- Research potential companies we might pair with. - Create hypothetical models and seek feedback from the public on the models (alternatively, seek individual interviews). - Try to determine the new skills someone might have added versus what would have been taught, pedagogically.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We would appreciate OpenIDEO feedback on thoughts and ideas for dropping the liberal arts courses in exchange for internships. We would really appreciate personal stories if you went to a college and did and internship, or if you went to a college that didn't have these "general education courses".

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Irene Kien

Hi there!
I think you have a great idea. I am currently a college student and I never knew the real purpose of taking core classes that I know for sure that I do not need in my future job. However, I was wondering if you knew why there is a core curriculum in place to begin with? Do you think it is because having those classes in place before taking major courses helps students find what major they want to pursue?

Photo of Nirbhay Shah

Hi Irene,
Thanks for your interest in the idea. From my understanding and back background, I kind of agree with the statement that the core classes rarely help with the future job, but I assume they are added to the curriculum for the students to get little bit of an insights into those subjects which kinda help create a base for other electives. Thats just one reasoning, I assume there would be few more reason for them to be part of the package. My solution for this would be lowering the credits for these courses. For example, if 3 Core classes are for 3 credits each, they cost you about 9 credits worth. But instead, if they are combined into a single class worth 3 credits (one core class worth one credit), then you end up with 6 credits to spare for your internships. As a results you save money and time. I hope this helps. 

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