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Editorial in the Austin Business Journal, Nov. 25, 2011

Guest Editorial/Jake B. Schrum

As a college president, I receive numerous messages from alumni and parents throughout the year. But one I recently received was particularly touching. It was from one of our students who graduated in 2009 and was writing to tell me she was not able to make a gift to our university this year because she was trying to pay for graduate school.

But what this graduate told me in her letter was worth more to me than an annual gift. That’s because her letter documented the value of the education she received at Southwestern University.

“Since I began my master’s program in September, it has been obvious that Southwestern truly prepares its students for graduate school,” this student wrote me. “Although I have only been in graduate school for a short time, my GPA has stayed at a 4.0, and I know of several Southwestern alumni who have the same story to tell of their graduate education.”

The timing of this letter was particularly meaningful because it arrived the same week as the results of a recent study commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America’s leading liberal arts colleges. The Annapolis Group – of which Southwestern is a member – commissioned the survey to determine how its graduates perceive the effectiveness of its member institutions in comparison to others. The group had commissioned a similar study in 2002.

This year the findings were similar, but even more pronounced: When it comes to getting a first job out of college, gaining admission to graduate school, or generally preparing students to meet life’s challenges, graduates of residential liberal arts colleges such as Southwestern University give their college experience higher marks than do graduates of public universities or large private universities.

The study, which was conducted by the higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day, found that 77 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as “excellent,” compared to 53 percent for graduates of flagship public universities. Seventy-nine percent of liberal arts college graduates report benefiting “very much” from high-quality teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for alumni of flagship public universities.

The study also found that students who attend liberal arts colleges are more likely to graduate in four years or fewer, giving them a head start on their careers.

We survey our own graduates regularly, and the results are quite similar. Our challenge is to do a better job letting prospective students and their parents know the real value of a liberal arts education.

Jake B. Schrum is president of Southwestern University, a private liberal arts college in Georgetown, Texas.