Are liberal arts graduates better prepared for careers (or actually worse off) than their technically educated counterparts?
Would it be better if today's undergraduate students combined the two forms of education?
These and other questions are among the broad issues that reverberated throughout the 68th annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges held here in January.
My assignment was to explore how a few colleges were managing to combine liberal studies with business experience.
I did come on one dilemma.
Personnel officers told me they were more impressed by technical studies and actual work experience. Management executives declared they were more interested in the broader education aspects of the liberal arts.
I then talked with several school officials about the career experiences their undergraduates could try out. They are almost as varied as the institutions themselves.
According to Marie McHugh, associate dean of Boston College, students participate in nonpaid internships throughout the city of Boston without receiving academic credit.
On the other hand, Carlow College, a small college primarily for women, grants the students academic credit for an internship done outside of class time.
Elizabeth MacMillan, dean of the college, explained that because the college is located within the city limits of Pittsburgh, a student interested in corporate work is able to intern at US Steel, for example, and receive the benefit of course credit as well as monetary compensation. If a student is interested in a nonprofit organization, however, she inevitably receives only academic credit.
Many schools have a special January or winter term set aside for this type of study and actively assist students in obtaining internships at prestigious institutions. Many of the Northeastern women's colleges subscribe to this method of career education.
Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., is among the pioneers in the internship program with the first one established in l949.
I am writing this while I am a noncompensated but get-course-credit intern at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y.
Denison University, an independent coed college in Granville, Ohio, requires that all students participate in a January term for two of the four years.
At these colleges, January is a time to investigate career options through internships, do advanced independent work in an area not available in regularly scheduled courses, or enroll in a course outside of an individual's major field.
At Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., also an independent co-ed institution, a student majoring in English can take a course in computer science during January and acquire some literacy in a technical field.
Other students may leave the Bucknell campus for an entire semester and receive credit for working in a metropolitan area at their own expense.
Donald K. Jarvis, associate director of general education at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, says that BYU's ''Washington Seminar'' is among the most popular of semester-long intern programs.
The students work in either the public or private sectors in Washington, D.C. , in nonpaying jobs and take university courses during the evening. BYU is on a trimester calendar, with most students opting to intern during the three-month winter term.
In addition, Brigham Young offers a similar program in New York City in the fields of advertising and business. Jarvis explained that the university has formed cooperative programs that are designed to increase faculty awareness about the working world that their students face.
The Monitor's education editor asks: Will the debate over ''tech ed'' or ''liberal arts'' now cease?