LAWSON: Echols program defeats purpose of a liberal arts education

Exempting Echols scholars from area requirements undermines the College, deprives Echols scholars of valuable skill sets

Thomas Jefferson greatly valued the liberal arts. Students in the College face the remnants of this reality throughout their time at the University as they labor their way through hours of online French homework at three in the morning or trudge up Rugby Road to fulfill the fine arts requirement. Earning credits in area requirements is no easy feat, a reality fellow College students will attest to, but they do it in the name of achieving a well-rounded liberal arts education. These requirements are typically accepted by members of the College for their essential role in an individual’s growth as a thinker and an intellectual. However, the alleged utility of these mandated classes is undermined by Echols scholars’ lack of area requirements, which defeats the purpose of a liberal arts education.

Along with priority registration for classes and advising resources, exemption for area requirements is among the stated benefits of the Echols Scholars Program. These requirements include social sciences, humanities, historical studies, natural sciences and mathematics, non-western perspectives and a foreign language. To justify the scholars’ freedom from these classes, the site explains the program enables them “to take specialized higher-level classes from the outset of their matriculation.” By claiming the early enrollment into higher-level classes as a benefit, the program consequently devalues lower-level area requirements demanded of other College students.

The specificity of the program also directly conflicts with what the College of Arts & Sciences endorses in an ideal liberal arts education: “A good liberal arts education thus demands not only rigor and depth, but also sufficient breadth to expose students to a wide range of subjects and methods of studying them.” The College artificially defends the importance of a well-rounded liberal arts education, while simultaneously providing exemptions to students it deems worthy.

However, Echols scholars are ultimately the real victims of their narrowed exposure to different aspects of the College. The breadth of a liberal education serves undeclared students and students with knowledge of career path alike. For undeclared students, the College provides an environment to cultivate one’s passions and discover new interests. For both groups, the liberal arts supplies an invaluable toolset with which to approach the world. Employers actively seek graduates with the ability to tackle a variety of tasks from several angles. By enabling specificity, the Echols Scholars Program deprives students of the asset of broadness, molding them into academics rather than future employees.

The abstract skills gained from a comprehensive liberal arts education translate into tangible job opportunities for degree-earners. A study carried out by the Association of American Colleges and Universities suggests that, although workers with a liberal arts education typically make less than workers with pre-professional and professional degrees immediately following graduation, they actually make $2,000 more annually during their peak earning years. This upward mobility in the job market is the result of critical thinking skills that enable liberal arts graduates to pursue a broad range of potential careers.

The Echols Scholars Program exemption from area requirements and the College’s stated emphasis on a full liberal arts education are in direct competition. The privilege of Echols scholars to bypass area requirements portrays the requirements as an obstacle to other members of the College, rather than an essential part of a dynamic and versatile education. Additionally, narrowing the scope of the Echols scholars’ base of education actually hurts their ability to gain a valuable skillset for future employment.

Charlotte Lawson is a viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. She may be reached at

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