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Education is "Necessary But Not Sufficient;" What Does That Mean?

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

How Important is Education Alone?

In philosophy and law, the term "necessary but not sufficient" helps explain why people buy or spend time doing things that seem not directly related to the task at hand.

For example, many professional athletes lift weights. Someone unfamiliar with sports would ask, "a golfer's job is to hit a golf ball on a grass field. Why would it be worthwhile to lift weights?" The answer is that "physical strength, flexibility, and conditioning are necessary to have power, coordination, and prevent injury in every sport." Adequate amounts of strength, flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning, nutrition, and sleep are necessary for an athlete to compete in something seemingly as mild as golf but not sufficient to turn an average athlete into a winner.

The same argument holds for liberal arts education. Why are these abstract, philosophical ideas such as critical thinking skills, English, anthropology, etc., relevant to someone's career in law, business, or other practical fields?

There are two central answers to this question: fit is hard to find and company tribalism.

Finding a Good Fit Is Hard to Find, Especially If You Have Not Tried Enough Quite simply, finding a good fit for a job and even an entire career is challenging. In many generalist fields such as lawyer, doctor, and teacher, the answer is "there are so many different types of ________,” it is hard to generalize.

Indeed, there are aptitude tests, career predictors, and a plethora of techniques that books like What Color Is Your Parachute? help to name. Even with these strategies and tactics that have worked with most people, a person will not know until they try.

Perhaps this makes science such an effective way of testing models…information is compiled, a theory is reviewed, and hypotheses are made. Still, an actual experiment occurs, with data collection and discussion afterward.

Interestingly, universities like the University of Waterloo, Northeastern, and Drexel University have done just this: an education focused on work experience in the designated field, above-average pay and work responsibilities, and mentorship with discussion after each job. For those who wish to have tangible experiences in a specific career field lined up without a doubt, a liberal arts education may not be necessary or worthwhile.

Universities with this co-op education seem best for those who truly want to become good workers in a specific field. Conversely, the traditional liberal arts path is best for those who want the prestige of undergraduate, grad school, or going into academia.

Tribalism: The Political Realities of the Workforce

The power of membership in clubs, Greek life fraternities, sororities, university events, etc. to elite Washington D.C. societies, lie in the power of (political) tribalism.

Anyone shopping at Costco, Sam's Club, part of an "Inner Circle" buyers club at a department store, etc., can see the power of this process. Being part of a group can get people special access that the general population will have a more difficult time getting or not get at all.

As we can see, most sports teams, firms, etc., promote this tribalism, as it helps with group retention, group loyalty, and essential trust.

Related to universities, schools such as Harvard, military academies, or even regional universities, the group trust built, as well as private recommendations and commentary, can serve as critical areas that can make or break a person getting that desired internship, job, decision, etc.

Whether someone agrees with the method of liberal arts education at many top-ranked schools, it is clear that it is necessary to finish a degree from somewhere, critical to network well at these schools to become part of the tribe, and coupled with excellent training programs and lower-level performance, may be sufficient for a promising career in a given field.

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