When it comes to getting a first job out of college, gaining admission to graduate school, or generally preparing 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 private or public universities, according to a new national study commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America’s leading liberal arts colleges.

Southwestern is among the founding members of the Annapolis Group.

“We are not surprised by the results of the Annapolis Group Study,” said President Jake B. Schrum. “Every other year we survey our own students, and the results are quite similar.  Basically, we need to do a better job of letting prospective students and their parents know the real value of a liberal arts education.”

President Schrum said a letter he received this month from a 2009 Southwestern graduate underscored the survey’s findings. The letter was from Kacie Wilson, who is now in the child life graduate program at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

“Since I began my master’s program at Bank Street in September, it has been obvious that Southwestern truly prepares its students for graduate school,” Wilson said. “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. I believe that this speaks volumes of the faculty and staff at Southwestern. Several Southwestern alumni have gone to graduate schools that are nationally recognized for providing an exemplary education to their students, and every single one of them could tell you that they excelled in their graduate studies BECAUSE of their education at Southwestern, and I feel honored to be able to say the same thing about my education.”

The following were among the study’s career-related findings:

  • Seventy-six 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;
  • Eighty-nine percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities;
  • Sixty 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.

The study was conducted by the higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day and is based on a total of 2,700 telephone interviews made in 2002 and again in the summer of 2011. It is one of only a few studies that explore the lasting effects of college in such areas as career preparation and advancement, skill development, development of personal and professional values and attitude, and community involvement.

Other key findings in the survey included the following:

  • 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 high-quality 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 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;
  • They were involved in an extracurricular activity.

The Annapolis Group, a non-profit alliance of 130 residential liberal arts colleges, commissioned the surveys in 2002 and 2011 to determine how its graduates perceive the effectiveness of its member institutions in comparison to others.

Alumni of all three types of institutions surveyed – liberal arts colleges, private universities, and flagship public universities – were more likely in the 2011 survey to rate their overall experience as “excellent” than in the 2002 survey. The increase was particularly pronounced for graduates of liberal arts colleges, who went from 66 to 77 percent, and public universities, who went from 41 to 53 percent.


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