A translation of the Latin artes liberales
, meaning "works befitting a free man
The liberal arts have long since lost their prestige. Today it is much more fashionable for college students to pursue coursework in some specific discipline, such as business or engineering. My own alma mater decided that it was not cool enough to have a College of Liberal Arts, and they therefore renamed it the College of Arts and Sciences.
Far be it from me to denigrate those who choose a narrowly focused path. I myself, in fact, expected to graduate from college with a degree in physics, until I became enamored of the liberal arts. I steeped myself in history, politics, and philosophy, and (dammit) I would not have had it any other way. It was an enriching experience, and I don't know what more I need to say about it. In a way, I pity those people who go to school with the dream of going into advertising, for example, and come out of school only to go directly into advertising.
At their core, the liberal arts should broaden the intellectual horizons of those who pursue them. There is no greater reward.