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Liberal Arts education gives graduates an advantage in down economy

Date: 1/26/2012

A recent survey conducted by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) suggests that a liberal arts education can help graduates gain an important edge in a down economy. 

According to the SSRC, “Recent college graduates who as seniors scored highest on a standardized test to measure how well they think, reason and write — skills most associated with a liberal arts education — were far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest.”

"This survey confirms what many of us have already observed while teaching and advising students,” said Dr. Spencer S. Stober, professor of biology at Alvernia University. “When students take their liberal arts courses seriously, they gain knowledge and critical thinking skills that make them better students in their academic major. It is no surprise that these same students are successful in their careers.”

The SSRC study found that students who had mastered the ability to think critically, reason analytically and write effectively by their senior year were three times less likely to be unemployed than those who hadn't (3.1% vs. 9.6%).

In addition, results showed that recent graduates were half as likely to be living with their parents (18% vs. 35%), and far less likely to have amassed credit card debt (37% vs. 51%).

The independent group’s research is particularly noteworthy, because surveyed graduates entered the labor market during an “especially difficult time in the recent economic history of the United States.”

"A liberal arts education provides a foundation of essential knowledge, competencies and values that are often considered "fast-track skills" in the workplace," explained Dr. Shirley Williams, Alvernia provost. "A broad understanding of human cultures and the physical and natural world is essential in an increasingly complex global society. A good liberal arts education helps to to develop the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and communication across the curriculum — key intellectual skills in organizations. At Alvernia it is the integration of a broad based curriculum with a specialized course of study to engage our students in real world problems that foster civic learning."

The new study is based on surveys of 925 graduates had taken the Collegiate Learning Assessment — a standardized test for senior-level students that aims to measure learning. In addition to showing greater success financially, high-scorers were more likely to read the news and discuss politics and be living with or married to a romantic partner they met in college.

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges says findings suggest that the Collegiate Learning Assessment “is a pretty good measure of how people are going to do in life."

In a USA Today article about the SSRC’s finding’s, reporter Mary Beth Marklein mentioned recent discoveries by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (which studies the labor-market value of college degrees). The Georgetown study found that recent graduates with a bachelor's degree in architecture had the highest average jobless rate (13.9%, vs. 8.9% for all recent college graduates), while education and health care majors had some of the lowest jobless rates.

Full Social Science Research Council survey

  • History: Established as a private four-year liberal arts college in 1958, Alvernia celebrated its 50th year by being awarded university status in 2008.
  • Heritage: Founded by the Bernardine Sisters, a Catholic religious order, the university embraces the Franciscan core values of service, humility, collegiality, contemplation and peacemaking.
  • Motto: “To Learn, To Love, To Serve”
  • Campus: The main campus in Reading is 121 acres, with two satellite campuses in Philadelphia and Pottsville (Schuylkill County).
  • Location: Our residential campus is situated three miles from center-city Reading, in the scenic Blue Mountain area of Eastern Pennsylvania.
  • Enrollment: 3,000 students attend Alvernia including 1,500 traditional undergraduates, 600 continuing education students, and 780 graduate students. Over 77% of first-year students live on campus.
  • Faculty: Our professors are accomplished scholars, experts in their fields, and supportive mentors. The student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. Most classes are 20 students or fewer.
  • Athletics: NCAA Division III, member of the Commonwealth Conference of the Middle Atlantic States Athletic Corporation and member of Eastern College Athletic Conference, 8 men’s and 10 women’s intercollegiate sports.