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Let’s face it: Liberal arts colleges often get a bad rap. Many parents of college-bound students are concerned that a liberal arts degree may not be a sensible choice in the long run.
More traditional, specialized degrees are glorified due to the perception that they’ll lead to well-paying jobs with long-term financial security. Liberal arts colleges are often overlooked in favor of schools that offer majors like engineering or nursing, where high starting salaries are the norm. The emphasis is placed on starting pay instead of long-term job satisfaction and overall well-being.
A study conducted by Great Lakes College Association President, Richard Detweiler, sheds light on the advantages of a liberal arts education in the workplace and beyond. Liberal arts school presidents have argued the positive impact of nontraditional education. Now, Detweiler’s research is backing up those claims.
After reading 328 separate liberal arts college mission statements, the researcher discovered a theme: Liberal arts schools are intent on educating folks with an interest in lifelong learning. These schools aim to help students be curious and thoughtful with a desire for ongoing success in their career and life.
Liberal arts colleges must be doing something right.
After surveying 1,000 graduates from across the U.S., Detweiler found that people with a liberal arts background are likely to be fulfilled and happy. He learned that students who took classes from multiple fields (the liberal arts approach) were also more likely to gain financial success.
In fact, students who took over half of their coursework in classes outside their majors were 29 percent more likely to earn salaries over $100,000. This is in direct contrast to the traditional belief that focusing on a specific, more “practical” subject is the best route to success.
Why Liberal Arts Colleges Produce Successful Graduates
It’s no coincidence that the liberal arts approach is resulting in highly successful people. According to Detweiler, it’s probable that studying multiple subjects develops flexibility and learning in a way that makes it easier for graduates to work comfortably in a variety of environments. They are more equipped to spot new opportunities and find creative solutions to problems. Liberal arts colleges also offer students the chance to spend more time with professors, which the study linked to stronger leadership abilities.
Of course, Detweiler isn’t the first person to explore the advantages of attending a liberal arts college. In an article for CBS News, best-selling author, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, highlights that employers value individuals with a liberal arts background.
O’Shaughnessy explains that liberal arts students are “more likely to be required to write papers, give class presentations, and collaborate with their classmates and professors.” These experiences lead to better communication, analytic, and teamwork skills.
The author encourages students dreaming of Ivy League schools to consider a liberal arts education instead.
The Truth About Tuition and Salary
According to LiberalArtsColleges.com, the Total Cost of Graduation (TCOG) is often a grey area; reports rarely mention the fact that many traditional students don’t graduate on time, adding to tuition and interest charges. Liberal arts students often graduate sooner, which means they begin making money sooner.
Information regarding starting salaries is also skewed. In their marketing, some colleges focus almost entirely on how much money students make immediately after graduation. Detweiler points out these numbers can be deceiving: “What I found is that any disadvantage to being a liberal arts major in terms of salary is short-term and disappears quickly.”
He explains: “On average, liberal arts majors have a somewhat lower income in their very first jobs than technically trained students, but very quickly after that, salaries match. Over time, liberal arts majors have much larger salary increases.”
In the college selection process, adding several liberal arts colleges into the mix is a good choice for college-bound students. As Detweiler’s research shows, enrolling in a liberal arts college could pay dividends for decades to come.