The Value of Investing in a Liberal Arts Education
In the new study, ROI of Liberal Arts Colleges: Values Adds Up Over Time, authors Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf, report that although the median return on investment of attending college (enhanced earnings less the cost of attendance) for liberal arts college grads ten years out trails all college graduates by $49,000, the forty-year picture is quite different. Over a career, the median return for liberal arts grads is $195,000 greater than all college graduates.
This study is a biproduct of the earlier report, A First Try at ROI, in which Susquehanna ranked among the top 10% of higher education institutions and 24th among liberal arts colleges.
This new study corroborates a number of other publications that have demonstrated the advantages of a liberal arts education as preparation for a career. Hardwick Day produced a study for the Annapolis Group that demonstrated the advantages of a residential liberal arts education as a preparation for navigating the complexities of life and for developing a career in the evermore dynamic world of work.
In June 2012, I had the opportunity to join a group of educational leaders from throughout Southeast Asia with a handful of American educators at City University of Hong Kong for a conference addressing general education and curricular reform. At the time, higher education institutions in Hong Kong were preparing to move from a three-year to a four-year baccalaureate.
After protests had pushed back an initiative to add Chinese nationalist content, Hong Kong’s educators chose to add elements of American liberal education to their curricula. They had observed too many of their graduates struggling to adapt to changing work environments. I found it ironic that at a time when I had to counter rising opposition at home, these educators were embracing elements of liberal education that have been proven to prepare students for life-long learning, adaptability, problem solving, and leadership.
A series of studies completed by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) have provided compelling data to support the many ways in which a liberal arts education prepares graduates for the long haul.
In these surveys, employers reported the skills that prepared employees to be successful and to achieve leadership positions. These are the same skills that are the focus of a liberal arts education, which were highlighted in It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success.
That report stated that to prepare for career success, students should:
· Be able to solve problems with people whose views are different from theirs;
· Develop skills in critical thinking, clear written and oral communication, and complex problem solving;
· Have field-specific knowledge and a broad range of skills and knowledge;
· Emphasize ethics, intercultural skills, and a capacity for professional development (i.e. lifelong learning);
· Complete a significant project that demonstrates their acquired knowledge and skills; and
· Engage in community-based projects, internships, and independent research.
It has long been said that while many universities prepare students for their first job, liberal arts colleges prepare students for their last job, and more importantly for the path that gets them there. It is no coincidence that over a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees.
This is why it should be no surprise that ROI of Liberal Arts Colleges revealed these long-term earnings advantages. We prepare our students for persistence, promotion, and leadership, which…pays off.