Rhode Island Monthly Higher Learning 2016 : Page 5

s the United States continues to emerge from one of the longest economic downturns in history, many parents are questioning the value of a liberal arts education. They want to know what skills a student will graduate with that will make him or her marketable in a tight job market. This is driving many families to seek full-service universities with a business college or health science curriculum that they feel will lead to a career. However, according to a 2013 study by Hart Research Associates, 93 percent of employers felt that a candidate’s “capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Additionally, a 2012 Census Bureau study found that humanities majors age thirty-six to forty had earnings equal to their pre-professional peers and outpaced their peers’ earnings from age forty-one through sixty-five. In fact, liberal arts majors have an unemployment rate of only 5.2 percent. And while presidential candidate Marco Rubio questioned the usefulness of a liberal arts major in the November Republican debate, saying, “Welders make more money than philosophers…we need more welders than philosophers,” he couldn’t be more inaccurate. According to payscale.com, the average welder with an associate’s degree makes $58,000 per year, while those with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy average $97,000 annually. It’s true that large, full-service universities play an important role in the American education system, but families should not discount the value that small, liberal arts colleges present in the marketplace. If the data does not convince you, there are other less quantifiable and more qualitative reasons to consider a liberal arts college. A Activities And LeAdership roLes There are certainly lots of clubs and organizations at large universities, but it’s also easier to sit back and do nothing. At smaller colleges, everyone seems to be involved in something. From Division Three sports to student government, the arts, music or clubs, in a tight knit community, everyone brings a friend along and participates. Somehow, managing the school newspaper, running for student senate or organizing a group to build housing in Appalachia over spring break seems more achievable in a small environment. These activities expose students to more career options and provide leadership roles that help build a resume for future employment. pLentifuL finAnciAL Aid smALL cLAsses, professor Access Liberal arts colleges offer personalized attention. With classes that often range from ten to twenty students, there is more opportunity for interactive learning and discussion. Professors are more accessible, with many spending all day on campus with generous office hours and fewer students to see. It’s not unusual at liberal arts colleges for professors to invite groups of students to their homes for dinners and to form long-lasting mentorships. At larger universities, introductory classes are often taught by teaching assistants without much experience and in large lecture halls with hundreds of students. For many students, this environment can be an intimidating place to ask questions, and it can be difficult to get extra help outside of class. While the sticker price may be higher at liberal arts colleges (many exceed $50,000 per year), there is also a lot more need-based and merit aid available. Many liberal arts colleges, like Colby, Bates and Haverford, meet more than 90 percent of demonstrated need for students. In addition, merit scholarships are popular and generous at liberal arts schools like Clark, Denison and Furman. When financial aid awards are compared, it can often be much less expensive for a student to attend a liberal arts college than a large private or public university. There may be justifiable reasons for a student to attend a full-service university. Perhaps they want a larger school or to study engineering, architecture, pharmacy, nursing or pursue another pre-professional major rarely offered at smaller schools. However, families shouldn’t rule out liberal arts colleges simply because of cost, job placement or earnings fears. Liberal arts colleges are alive, thriving and proving their value in the twenty-first century. In the words of Ken Chenault, the CEO of American Express and a proud Bowdoin College graduate, “I am a strong believer in liberal arts education…what we really need today are people who have broad perspectives, people who are willing to take some chances intellectually and learn about subjects that they may not be the best in the world at. We need people who are going to be intellectually curious.” Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed., is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC, which provides strategic college counseling, SAT prep and athletic recruiting services. few GrAdinG curve periLs Most students are surprised to find out that science courses at large universities tend to be graded on a curve. That means that, unlike in high school, only a very limited number of students get As or Bs. The majority of students get Cs and a certain number are guaranteed Ds or even Fs. Pre-med students learn this the hard way in the notorious ‘weed out courses’ like organic chemistry, when dozens of students drop the idea of becoming doctors. It’s virtually impossible to get into med school with Cs on your transcript in science courses. However, at most liberal arts colleges, science courses are not graded on a curve, and the college is vested in getting as many students into grad school as possible. A primary mission of liberal arts colleges is, in fact, to have students go on to earn advanced degrees at some point in their future. RHODE ISL AND MONTHLY I higher le arning I 2016 all photographs, thinkstock. 5

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