Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare Students for Life

By Myers, Michele Tolela | The Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview

Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare Students for Life


Myers, Michele Tolela, The Christian Science Monitor


Life - and higher education - is about being a good adult, not about being a good student, nor only about the salary of your first job. Learning to be a good adult is infinitely more encompassing than just honing the intellect or the resume writing skills.

Despite the perennial "English majors drive a cab" myth, four years at a leading liberal arts college is a good start - perhaps the best - toward being a good adult.

Liberal arts colleges have gotten it right because no other kind of education better prepares a young person for a society in which adults can be expected to change careers, jobs, and lifestyles several times.

We are doing it right when 80 percent to 90 percent of our students graduate in four years, more than twice the national average. Graduation rates for our minority students are also well over twice the national average. Athletes graduate in four years in the same proportion nonathletes do. Why should anyone be surprised to learn that well over 50 percent of our graduates move on to excellent graduate or professional schools?

Although some people believe degrees in history, English, physics, psychology, or art are poor preparation for entry-level jobs, the fact is that corporations are looking more and more for graduates who can think, write, talk, analyze numbers, have a sense of history, have a grasp of the big picture, and know how to learn. They're looking, in short, for liberally educated people. Specialized training can be provided later when needed.

Liberal arts colleges provide this education with a lifetime shelf life at no greater cost than other forms of higher education. The only difference between the prices charged at public universities and private colleges comes from the fact that public universities are subsidized by tax dollars and private colleges are not.

Federal and state support to students has diminished considerably in the past few decades at a time when the average family income has declined in real terms. The liberal arts college is expensive, no doubt, for a family. But we deliver the goods and we also provide a lot of financial assistance through need-based and merit-based aid. The percentage of students who receive financial aid varies between 35 percent and 70 percent at leading liberal arts colleges. …

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