Study correlates liberal arts education with lifelong success

Discussions with faculty outside the classroom the most important factor

People who had experiences associated with liberal arts education as undergraduates are more likely than their peers who did not have such experiences to be a leader, show interest in arts and culture, be viewed as ethical, and report fulfillment and happiness, Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Those findings are from a recent study by Richard Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, that he hopes to publish as a book and presented during the recent Association of American Colleges and Universities conference.

Detweiler surveyed 1,000 college graduates from across the country about their long-term outcomes. The survey sample included people randomly selected from among two lists: graduates of liberal arts colleges and graduates of any U.S. college or university. Detweiler divided the group into those who graduated 10 years, 20 years, and 40 years ago.

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The survey asked participants about their experiences in college and since graduation. Questions targeted characteristics, skills, and outcomes emphasized by liberal arts colleges, such as leadership and long-term fulfillment. Detweiler designed the questions to be indirect; rather than asking, "Are you a leader?," he asked if participants often helped others who came to them for advice, served as mentors, or held elected positions in groups or committees.

After analyzing the results, Detweiler found that people who reported having experiences associated with liberal arts colleges also tended to be more successful and fulfilled over the long term. In particular, he said faculty interaction was a key experience.

People who had more discussions with faculty members outside of the classroom were 30% to 100% more likely to demonstrate leadership and 26% to 66% more likely to volunteer or donate to charity.

People who reported having classroom discussions of conflicting perspectives were also more likely to report being generally satisfied and having a meaningful professional and personal life.

And in an era of public scrutiny over the salaries of college graduates, Detweiler found that having a six-figure salary was most strongly correlated to taking more classes beyond one's major—not to the choice of major itself (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 1/22).

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