The tuition of a private, liberal-arts institution can be daunting, but does the value outweigh the cost? Many experts have been sharing their perspectives on the topic, and we have gathered several of the leading narratives into one place. Research has also been done in recent years that uncovered a large number of leading business professionals, top government officials and other key figures are actually liberal-arts graduates.
Liberal Arts in the Media
Liberal-arts colleges are often known for their picturesque campuses as well as their broad-based academic programs.
"[Liberal-arts institutions] graduate underrepresented minorities at higher rates than do other types of institutions. Students with a liberal arts background are more likely to get promoted and earn more over their lifetimes. Liberal arts majors are more likely to give back to their communities. An Annapolis Group survey of college graduates found that the graduates of liberal arts colleges were much more satisfied with their college experience on several metrics than were individuals who attended other types of institutions." "Making the Case" Inside Higher Ed, 11/19/12
"Today, perhaps more than ever, our nation’s leaders need to be able to strategically think and plan, deftly interpret changing global conditions, effectively marshal expansive resources and collaboratively guide teams of diverse people. Students at liberal arts colleges are challenged and supported to cultivate these skills throughout their coursework and co-curricular activities and then apply them during undergraduate research projects, volunteer experiences, and internships." "The Liberal Arts and Leadership" Inside Higher Ed, 5/14/12
"Liberal arts colleges, once dominant in higher education, now command less than one-tenth of the higher-education market, which has gravitated toward schools offering more practical majors at lower price points. The sector is “always defending itself, always on the edge,” said William Durden, president of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and fellow defender of the faith." "At St. John's, a Defender of Liberal Arts" The Washington Post, 5/13/11
"I think that instead of always trying to defend liberal arts education by ourselves, we might work to marshal others who may bring kinds of credibility that we lack to contribute to the defense. Former students could attest to their experiences; managers could speak to the skills they want. It would be interesting to see if brain imaging could shed light on the effects of different kinds of higher education on the brain. Instead of always defending, we can show what the liberal arts can do." "Stop Defending the Liberal Arts" Inside Higher Ed, 1/17/11
From a future-career standpoint, is it better to pick a career-specific college major or a more general major? Not only does it depend on how you define “better”; it also depends on what period of time you’re talking about, according to a recent study in the journal Social Forces. The study took an extensive look at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth of 1979, a nationally representative study of nearly 13,000 young men and women who were first interviewed in 1979 when they were between the ages of 14 and 22. The respondents were re-interviewed annually through 1994 and have since been re-interviewed every two years. The sample for the Social Forces study included 1,970 respondents who are college graduates, and the study itself looked at respondents’ occupational status in relation to their college majors.
The key finding: Participants who earned degrees in fields with “high occupational specificity” had significantly higher occupational status (i.e., higher salaries and higher overall educational levels across their fields) than their “low occupational specificity” counterparts—but only immediately after graduation.
“[G]rowth over time presents a notably different pattern,” stress study authors Josipa Roksa and Tania Levey. “Individuals majoring in fields with high occupational specificity experience a significantly lower growth in occupational status (including both occupational education and occupational earnings) than do individuals majoring in fields with low occupational specificity.” “What Can You Do with That Degree? College Major and Occupational Status of College Graduates Over Time.” Social Forces, 89(2) (December), pp. 389- 415
"The liberal arts college experience is not the best fit for every student, just as the large land-grant university experience is not the best fit for every student. The hope that we should have for those considering their college choice is that they find the right fit. For many thousands of students every year, that right fit will be found in a college experience grounded in the liberal arts." "The Value of a Liberal Arts Education" Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/10/10
"The on-the-ground stories back up the statistics and reinforce the idea that the liberal arts are not dying, despite the soft job market and the recent recession. Majors are steady, enrollments are up in particular fields, and students--and institutions--aren’t turning their backs on disciplines that don’t have obvious utility for the workplace. The liberal arts seem to have a particular endurance and resilience, even when we expect them to decline and fall." "Liberal Arts I: They Keep Chugging Along" Inside Higher Ed, 10/1/10
"The liberal arts always situate graduates on the road for success. More Fortune 500 CEOs have had liberal arts B.A.s than professional degrees. The same is true of doctors and lawyers. And we know the road to research science most often comes through a liberal arts experience." "Liberal Arts II: The Economy Requires Them" Inside Higher Ed, 10/1/10
“The National Science Foundation compiles data on where engineering and science PhD’s obtained their undergraduates degrees. … What I found most interesting (but not surprising) is that the majority of these schools—28 of them—are liberal arts colleges.” "Top 50 Schools That Produce Science Ph.D.s" CBSMoneyWatch.com, 9/1/10
Washington Monthly's 2010 liberal arts college rankings rates schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility, Research and Service. 2010 Liberal-Arts College Rankings Washington Monthly, 8/23/10
From small classes and personal attention from professors to flexibility in the curriculum and better communications skills, this list explores the top 10 advantages to liberal-arts college. "10 Reasons to Go to a Small College" U.S. News.com, 7/28/10
“Anyone making the case for the irrelevance of liberal-arts colleges cannot explain away the oversized contribution that graduates of liberal-arts colleges continue to make to commerce, science, technology, the arts and higher education.” Speech by Martha J. Kanter, undersecretary, U.S. Department of Education at the Annapolis Group Conference, "The Relevance of Liberal Arts to a Prosperous Democracy" 6/22/10
“Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose).” "History for Dollars" The New York Times, 6/7/10
“One of the missions of liberal arts colleges is to teach kids how to think, talk and write. Don’t all schools do that? Not necessarily.” “5 Reasons to Attend a Liberal Arts College” CBSMoneyWatch.com, 1/26/10
"One of the major pluses of a non-technical education is the emphasis on inter-personal skills. Students in liberal arts take courses in diverse fields like history, political science and English. It enables them to engage in meaningful conversation on a variety of social, economic and political issues." "Going Liberal on Wall St.: What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" by Kaustav "JoJo" Mukherjee '10, Business Today, Spring 2009 (pp. 26-27)
“As knowledge, technology, and global impacts escalate at dissying rates, so too will the value and significance of the liberal education framework increase.” "Liberal Education for the Twenty-first Century: Business Expectations" Liberal Education, spring 2005
People mistakenly think that journalists must graduate from journalism schools, doctors must attend major research universities and senior political officials must graduate from one of the top Ivy League institutions. In fact, liberal-arts gradutes are more often found in leading positions because of the skills their broad education provides.
Top 21 Careers for Liberal-Arts Majors
(according to Rice University)
Advertising/Public Relations, Consulting, Environment, Film and Television, Government, Human Resources, Human Services/Nonprofit Management, International Business, Investment Banking, Journalism, Legal/Paralegal, Library and Information Science, Marketing and Sales, Museums, Physical Sciences, Public Policy, Publishing, Research/Health Care, Sports Management and Recreation, Teaching, Technical Writing
Some examples of well-known liberal-arts graduates include:
- Bryant Gumbel, American television journalist
- Kenneth Langone, CEO of Home Depot
- Andy Rooney, humorist on TV’s “60 Minutes”
- Bob Woodruff, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist
- Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney
- Condoleeza Rice, former United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor
- Jessica Savitch, first female network news anchor
- John Glenn, astronaut, senator, candidate for president of the United States
- Rahm Emmanuel, Mayor of Chicago, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, former Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, former Senator from New York, candidate for president of the United States
- Bill Belichick, head coach, New England Patriots, winner of three Super Bowls
- Stephen Sondheim, composer
- George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees
Montgomery Educational Consulting offers a list of famous liberal-arts graduates sorted by college.
By the Numbers
Interesting data and statistics regarding liberal-arts colleges, their alumni outcomes and more.
- In a recent survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 69 percent of business leaders rated the skills gained through a liberal arts education as "very important."
- 18 of the top 50 feeder schools for getting into elite business, law and medical schools were liberal-arts institutions. Wall Street Journal, 2009
- AT&T, one of the largest employers of college graduates in the United States, studied the college backgrounds of employees who had advanced to senior management positions after 20 years and discovered that 43 percent of liberal-arts graduates advanced to senior management compared to 34 percent of the business-school graduates and 28 percent of the engineering graduates.
- Chase Manhattan studied the effectiveness of its people as “relationship managers” and learned that 60 percent of the liberal-arts graduates were regarded as high performers, while 60 percent of the MBA graduates were evaluated as “low performers.”