Study Reveals Grads of Liberal Arts Colleges Feel Better Prepared

Study Reveals Grads of Liberal Arts Colleges Feel Better Prepared

November 17, 2011

Graduates of the nation's top liberal arts colleges, including Salem College, say they learned more in college than graduates of any other types of colleges, including their preparation for their first job and careers, according to a new national study commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America's leading liberal arts institutions. Salem is a member of the Annapolis Group, a non-profit alliance of 130 residential liberal arts colleges. Member schools commissioned the survey to determine how its graduates perceive the effectiveness of its member institutions in comparison to others.

"These findings come as no surprise to us. Our emphasis on critical thinking skills, communication, and analysis of ideas and information provides our graduates with the tools they need for extraordinary careers in a rapidly changing world,” says Salem College President Susan Pauly.  “We remain dedicated to our mission and to our strong emphasis on academic rigor, and we are incredibly proud of our graduates' success in their professions."

Among the study’s career-related findings:

  • 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;
  • Seventy-six percent 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.

Liberal arts college graduates also are more likely to graduate in four years or less, giving them a head start on their careers.

Conducted by higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day, the study is based on a total of 2700 telephone interviews made in 2002 and 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.

Among other key findings in this year’s survey:

  • 75 percent of liberal arts collegegraduates 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," notes 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.

It also determined that liberal arts college graduates also 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.

Alumni of all three types of institutions -- 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, Day noted. 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.