Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

Mark William Roche

Winner of the 2012 Frederic W. Ness Book Award, Association of American Colleges and Universities

In a world where the value of a liberal arts education is no longer taken for granted, Mark William Roche lucidly and passionately argues for its essential importance. Drawing on more than thirty years of experience in higher education as a student, faculty member, and administrator, Roche deftly connects the broad theoretical perspective of educators to the practical needs and questions of students and their parents.

Roche develops three overlapping arguments for a strong liberal arts education: first, the intrinsic value of learning for its own sake, including exploration of the profound questions that give meaning to life; second, the cultivation of intellectual virtues necessary for success beyond the academy; and third, the formative influence of the liberal arts on character and on the development of a sense of higher purpose and vocation. Together with his exploration of these three values—intrinsic, practical, and idealistic—Roche reflects on ways to integrate them, interweaving empirical data with personal experience. Why Choose the Liberal Arts? is an accessible and thought-provoking work of interest to students, parents, and administrators.

Mark William Roche is the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Professor of German Language and Literature and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. From 1997 to 2008, Roche served as dean of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. His books include Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century and The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University, the latter published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

“A wise and inspiring meditation on the value of an education in the liberal arts, one that is informed by long experience, enriched by mature reflection, and not neglectful of commonsense practicalities. It beckons as a kindly light amid the encircling gloom of so much contemporary commentary on American higher education.” — Francis Oakley, President Emeritus, Williams College


“Writing with students, parents, faculty members, and administrators in mind, Roche argues for the importance of a liberal arts education and outlines its three important values: intrinsic, practical, and idealist. He shows how this education is valuable for learning for its own sake, cultivates intellectual virtues necessary for success beyond college, and has a formative influence on character and the development of a sense of higher purpose and vocation.” — Book News Inc.

“Explaining the value of a liberal arts education to someone who does not have one can be difficult. First, one must explain what liberal arts education means and then explain its value. Roche does an admirable job of explaining both. . . . The book is clearly written, nicely crafted into four thematically organized chapters, well argued in a reasonable and balanced manner, and convincingly supported by a substantial body of research. It will prove valuable reading for anyone concerned with the state of the modern university and the future of the liberal arts.” — Choice

“Can a liberal arts education be defended in a time of economic decline? Mark William Roche thinks so and that’s what he explores in this book. . . . Roche includes personal reflections to illustrate and personalize his points on the enduring value of a liberal arts education.” — Catholic Library World

“Roche has written a very thoughtful and fair apologia for the liberal arts that speaks to many contemporary challenges. Not only prospective students but current faculty can richly benefit from the author’s extensive administrative and teaching experience. The creative teaching methods he cites as examples throughout the book can serve as valuable models for teachers in almost any field.” —_Anglican and Episcopal History_