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Students still value career-oriented education over liberal arts experiences, research finds

Students still value career-oriented education over liberal arts experiences, research finds

Higher Ed Dive

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
September 19, 2022
Dive Brief:
  • Incoming college students can correctly identify the tenets of the liberal arts, but many think they can find that type of education anywhere, which bodes poorly for this set of institutions and their market position, according to new research from consultancy Art & Science Group.
  • The consultant interviewed more than 750 U.S. high school seniors this year and found nearly 60% believe you can find a liberal arts education at any type of institution. That’s about the share of students who said the same when Art & Science Group conducted similar research in 2017.
  • The organization’s data also suggests students want an education that directly prepares them for a job much more highly than they value the concept of a liberal arts experience. So “it remains the case, in terms of broad market appeal, that no advantage, and some potential disadvantage, accrues to an institution laying claim to the ‘liberal arts,’” Art & Science Group wrote in its report.
Dive Insight:
Students and families have grown skeptical of the merits of a liberal arts education, often pursuing majors with clearer links to the job market, such as STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.
Liberal arts colleges, which make up a significant share of nonprofit institutions in the U.S., often fight the idea that they are devoted to fluffy academic pursuits with little return on students’ investment.
The positive value proposition of the liberal arts has been documented.
Liberal arts colleges often offer a better return on investment than other institution types — though not immediately, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found in 2020. Students at liberal arts institutions have a median return of investment of $62,000 after a decade, lower than many other colleges. However, after 40 years, their median return on investment rises to $918,000 versus a median $723,000 for all institutions.
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