Liberal Arts 2.0: What Modern Skills Should Colleges Teach?

Last Updated Oct 14, 2010 9:33 AM EDT

With good blue collar jobs going the way of telegraph operators and steam locomotive repairmen, it stands to reason that to have a solid career in the 21st century you'll most likely need to go to college (though there are dissenters). College may be just about essential for entry into the modern workplace, but that doesn't mean the education you get there is perfectly suited to contemporary reality. In fact, no less a publication than Wired recently got into the act of adapting the usual liberal arts curriculum for the modern world (HT: Kottke), suggesting seven new classes:
  • Statistical Literacy: Making sense of today's data-driven world.
  • Post-State Diplomacy Power and politics, sans government.
  • Remix Culture: Samples, mashups, and mixes.
  • Applied Cognition: The neuroscience you need.
  • Writing for New Forms: Self-expression in 140 characters.
  • Waste Studies: Understanding end-to-end economics.
  • Domestic Tech: How to use the world as your lab.
But it's not just the big boys of the blogosphere that have taken to pondering the classrooms of tomorrow. Snarkmarket has a discussion going about liberal arts 2.0, and Gen Y blogger Untemplater also recently outlined three essential life skills few schools ever teach:
  • Personal Finance: If you spend less than you earn and avoid credit card debt, you're doing well. But that's not enough. Not by a long shot. It turns out that not having a thorough understanding of things like investing, retirement accounts, compounded interest, and tax strategies is simply not an option. In order to live an exceptional life, we need to use all tools at our disposalâ€"and money is a crucial tool.
  • Real Estate. Real estate is like cramming for an open book test when you haven't attended any classes all semester. You know nothing until the night before the test, you briefly understand enough to muddle through, then you forget it all again. Most people know absolutely nothing about real estate when they decide they want to buy a house. The decision launches them (well, it launched me) into a chaotic roller coaster-style crash course, during which they're distracted with pretty houses and emotional turmoil at every turn. Not exactly a recipe for educational excellence or level-headed decision making.
  • Starting a Business: At some point many of us will find ourselves starting or joining [a small business], especially in this struggling economy. Entrepreneurs are hailed as pseudo-rockstars, especially where I live in San Francisco. The idea of telling your boss to shove it and strike out on your own occupies the idle fantasy of many a cubicle dweller. Once I'd gotten all the benefit I thought I could from my corporate job, I launched my own online business, and I can honestly say that starting a company is harder than anything I've ever pursued in my life. It's harder than any college course, exam, job interview, or work assignment. Harder by a longshot.
What skills do you think colleges should be teaching?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user sludgegulper, CC 2.0)

  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.