Liberal Arts College Graduates Feel Better Prepared, Study Finds

Originally posted: November 18, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. – Graduates of top American liberal arts colleges, including University of Puget Sound, are more confident about the value of their education and about their career and graduate school prospects than graduates of any other type of college, according to a new report.

The national study, involving 2,700 interviews, was commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of leading U.S. liberal arts colleges, including Puget Sound. The 130-member consortium wanted to determine how graduates of residential liberal arts colleges perceived their college experience, compared to those at private or public universities.

“Students come to Puget Sound full of promise and expectation, and they emerge ready to take on careers ranging from science to politics, business and the arts, technology and medicine, or education and public service,” said President Ronald R. Thomas. “This study confirms that an excellent liberal arts education achieves the goals of our mission: students graduate from Puget Sound with the critical skills, knowledge, and experience they need to take on leadership roles in society and to pursue productive and fulfilling lives in a world that is rapidly changing.”

Among the study’s career-related findings:

  • 76 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their college experience ‘highly” for preparing them for their first job, compared to 66 percent who attended flagship public universities
  • 89 percent reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities
  • 60 percent said they felt “better prepared” for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent from flagship public universities
  • Liberal arts college graduates are more likely to graduate in four years or fewer, giving them a head start on their careers.

Many of the findings align with Puget Sound’s own internal research and with the results of other national surveys. These surveys often indicate that Puget Sound graduates attain their next-step goals in life at a higher rate than the average college graduate.

For example Puget Sound ranks first among Washington state baccalaureate colleges for the number of graduates who went on to earn Ph.D.’s, according to a 10-year National Science Foundation survey. Puget Sound graduates enjoy a 74 percent law school acceptance rate and a higher-than-average rate of medical and dental school acceptance (often substantially higher).

In addition Puget Sound has consistently placed among the top 10 small U.S. colleges producing Peace Corps volunteers, and in 2011 the college tied in 17th position among “small schools” for the number of graduates joining the Teach For America corps.

On the career front, last spring, 91 percent of graduating seniors said they were “very or somewhat confident” they would achieve their post-graduation plans, despite changes in the economy. The proportion of seniors who had already secured jobs before graduation was considerably higher than the national average in both 2010 and 2011.

Other key findings in the Annapolis Group survey included:

  • 77 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as “excellent,” compared to 53 percent from flagship public universities
  • 79 percent report benefiting “very much” from high-quality, teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for flagship public universities
  • 88 percent said there was a sense of community among students, compared to 79 percent for private universities and 63 percent for flagship public universities

Conducted by higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day, the study 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 community involvement.

The study also found 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

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, Hardwick 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.

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