Five Myths About Liberal Arts Education

By Donna Randall
President

Albion College President Donna RandallSometimes myths take on a life of their own, including in the world of higher education. In light of our celebration of Liberal Arts Education Week, August 12-19, let's do a reality check on some of the myths about liberal arts education.

The "myth busters" below are from a national study conducted by an independent research organization and released in November 2011 by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of the leading U.S. liberal arts colleges, of which Albion College is a member. The study compared Annapolis Group college alumni to graduates of the nation’s top 50 public universities.    

Myth 1: Liberal arts graduates have no practical skills. How do they expect to get that first job?

The Reality: Seventy-nine percent of the liberal arts college graduates rated their college academic experience highly for preparing them for their first job or graduate school, compared to 68% who attended the top public universities. At Albion College, as at many other Annapolis Group colleges, we integrate experiences such as internships and student-faculty research projects with our rigorous liberal arts curriculum. Right out of the gate, liberal arts graduates feel better prepared for their next step after earning their bachelor's degree.

Myth 2: Liberal arts education is outrageously expensive. No one can afford such an education.

The Reality: The cost of a college education remains a real concern for students and their families. However, when considering the return on investment, the long-term value of a liberal arts education becomes immediately apparent. Also, factor in that 87% of Annapolis Group liberal arts students graduate in four years or less vs. 57% at the top publics. Liberal arts graduates are not paying tuition and fees for additional years, and they have the advantage of starting their careers sooner than many of their large university peers.

Myth 3: There is little difference among undergraduate experiences. College is college.

The Reality: Seventy-seven percent of Annapolis Group alumni rated their undergraduate experience as excellent, compared to 56% at the top publics. As noted in the study, a liberal arts experience is characterized by "intentionality, engagement, and cohesion." More graduates at liberal arts colleges say they are "completely satisfied" with the overall quality of their education: they report almost double the satisfaction level of their public university counterparts (72% vs. 41%).

Myth 4: Faculty at all universities and colleges across the nation put their research interests first. "Publish or perish" persists across higher ed.

The Reality: Seventy-nine percent of Annapolis Group alumni reported benefiting "very much" from a "high-quality, teaching-oriented faculty." How does this compare to the top public universities? 39%. At liberal arts colleges, faculty are typically recruited not only as productive scholars, but for their teaching excellence. As an added bonus of a focus on teaching and learning at liberal arts colleges, 95% of Annapolis Group alumni reported that they had "a majority of classes taught by professors rather than teaching assistants." At the top public institutions? 39%.  

Myth 5: College does not adequately prepare you for life after graduation. Only real-world experience can do that.

The Reality: Our graduates are ready not only to face the world (as noted above), but to assume leadership roles. Sixty-eight percent of Annapolis Group alumni said their college was "extremely effective" in helping them learn to be a leader, a rating more than 10 percentage points higher than at the top publics. Service learning and other opportunities for active involvement on the small college campus are instrumental in developing future leaders.

In brief, a liberal arts education is a great investment! The data are on our side.

To see additional results from the study, go to www.collegenews.org.