Liberal Arts Graduates Say They’re Better Prepared for Life’s Challenges

Study by Annapolis Group bolsters Support for Liberal Arts Education
HARTFORD, CT, December 20, 2011 – A recent study by a consortium of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, Trinity among them, provides ample evidence that liberal arts graduates believe they are better prepared to meet life’s challenges and gain admission to graduate school than do alumni from private or public universities.
The study was commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a nonprofit group of 130 residential liberal arts colleges. Conducted by the higher education consulting firm, Hardwick Day, the findings are based on 2,700 telephone interviews in 2002 and again during the summer of 2011. The study is one of only a handful that explores the lasting effects of college in such areas as career preparation and advancement, skill and values development, and community involvement.

Hardwick Day compared survey responses of alumni of the Annapolis Group institutions with those of alumni of private universities, the top 50 public universities and a broader group of public flagship universities. The study found that graduates of Annapolis Group members tended to be more satisfied with their experience as undergraduates, and more likely to believe that their education had a significant impact on their personal and professional development.

“This is valuable information for families about how well liberal arts colleges educate the whole person and the real contribution that the college experience makes to success after graduation,” said Philip A. Glotzbach, president of Skidmore College and chair of the Annapolis Group’s executive committee. “This study shows that our graduates feel they are better prepared than most for life, for the job market, for graduate and professional schools, for pursuing a rewarding career, and for the surprises and challenges they know they will face in the future.”

As the cost of higher education has crept inexorably higher, some have begun to question the value of a liberal arts education and whether liberal arts institutions are adequately preparing students for today’s job market. The Annapolis Group’s study debunks many of the myths associated with a liberal arts education.

The survey results also come at a time when many top administrators are taking a hard look at the liberal arts model to see if adjustments or improvements should be made to align it more closely with society’s demands and the marketplace of tomorrow.

Trinity President James F. Jones, Jr., recently produced a White Paper entitled, “To Reweave the Helices: Trinity’s DNA by Our Two-Hundredth Birthday,” in which he offered numerous suggestions for transforming the College, strengthening its academic rigor and intellectual life, and altering its social climate.

Noting that Trinity’s 200th birthday is 12 years away, Jones wrote, “Systemic change to insure Trinity’s future will never occur unless we have the corporate will to make changes, some small, others perhaps more radical.”  Continuing, he wrote, “Our challenges are many as we imagine what Trinity’s ideal DNA might encompass by 2023: liberal arts colleges are today having to confront serious competition for talented students, too small an endowment, the never-ending pursuit of academic excellence, the intricate interstices between the intellectual helix and the social, a rapidly changing prospective pool, and all the rest. But the essentials are here: we have dedicated faculty and staff, a loyal alumni body all over the world, generous benefactors, an aesthetically beautiful campus, and most especially students who are ours for only four brief years.”

Jones’ recommendations concerning academics are being discussed and expanded upon by the faculty. The social environment of the College will be the subject of debate and discussion by a new Trustee Charter Committee consisting of members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, administrators and students. A preliminary report is due by the fall of 2012.
 Among the key findings of the Annapolis Group’s study:
  • 76 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job, compared to 66 percent who attended public flagship universities.
  • 60 percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt better prepared for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities.
  • Liberal arts college graduates are more likely to graduate in four years or fewer, giving them a head start on their careers.
  • 77 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as excellent, compared to 53 percent for graduates of flagship public universities.
  • 79 percent of liberal arts college graduates report benefiting very much from teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for alumni of flagship public universities;
  • 88 percent of liberal arts graduates said there was a sense of community among students, compared to 79 percent for private universities and 63 percent for public flagship universities.
“On virtually all measures known to contribute to positive outcomes, graduates of liberal arts colleges rate their experience more highly than do graduates of private or public universities,” said James H. Day, a principal of Hardwick Day and director of the study.

The study also found that liberal arts college graduates are more likely than graduates of both private and public universities to give their college a high effectiveness rating for helping them learn to write and speak effectively.
The study found also that liberal arts college graduates are more likely than alumni of other types of institutions to say all of the following about their college experience:
  • Their professors often challenged them academically and personally helped them meet those challenges.
  • Most of their grades were based on essay exams and written reports.
  • Their experience often included extensive classroom discussions.
  • They participated in faculty-directed research or independent study.
  • They often engaged in conversations with professors outside of class.
  • They participated in service-learning or community service.
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