Over the years, the demand for college-educated employees has gone up. At the same time, the cost of higher education has also risen. And in states such as Indiana, government grant assistance has decreased sharply and quickly, while student-loan debt creeps up with every college graduation. As families continue to struggle with the impact of the most recent recession, parents and incoming college students wonder if a liberal arts education is worth the cost of tuition.
As classes began this year, The Huffington Post online posted an editorial by Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray about the value of a liberal arts education. In the article, Ray acknowledges the push for students to study science, technology, engineering, and math, and the opinion that those fields lead to the best job prospects. But he adds, “In today’s world of changing demographics, 24/7 news cycles, and a global marketplace, the liberal arts are critical to success in every economic sector. There can be no doubt,” writes Ray, “that [liberal arts] play an essential part in providing a foundation for learning in every professional field.”
Of course, the administration and faculty at Anderson University would agree, but more importantly, so do employers hiring AU alumni and providing internships for AU students. Not only does an education from AU provide a good foundation for future employers and business leaders but also for community-minded citizens and faithful followers of Christ. For nearly 100 years, the AU community has welcomed young adults seeking to explore their calling and examine, question, and strengthen the foundations of their faith.
Liberal Arts Education = Knowledge and Skills
Dr. Marie Morris, academic provost at Anderson University, speaks of both knowledge and skills as the fruits of a liberal arts education. This idea debunks the myth that a liberal arts education teaches you how to think but the non-liberal arts education teaches you how to do. She uses her own background as a nurse to explain how her Christian liberal arts education gave her both the knowledge and the skills to succeed.
[Photo: Dr. Marie Morris, provost]
Speaking from her own experiences along the road from a liberal arts education to a nurse, to a nursing educator, to a university administrator, Morris explains, “Had I gone to a nursing program focused more specifically on nursing, I would have studied content and skills for that discipline. That is fine if I had stayed in that discipline, but in our world, people change and jobs change.” As a result, universities need to graduate students with the ability to adapt. “I think we build greater adaptive capacity through a liberal arts education where students are exposed to a broader range of content and develop a broader range of skills.”
It is important to note that employers today do not strictly define skills as technical skills. In fact, the skills Ray writes employers are looking for in new employees have nothing to do with technology. Instead, they are looking for skills that demonstrate the abilities to think critically, communicate clearly, learn new things, solve complex problems, act with ethical judgment and integrity, apply knowledge to real-world situations, and interact well with other cultures. These are all skills found in an Anderson University graduate.
According to Laurie Judge, director of the Career Development Center at AU, employers not only expect liberal arts graduates to have those skills but the experience of using those skills.
“Ninety-one percent of employers expect graduates to have at least one or two internship experiences on their résumés. It is significant,” says Judge. “Certainly in a relevant area is stronger than not, but employers also look at experience in effective communication skills, teambuilding skills, and leadership types of skills as well as initiative, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze and summarize data clearly and concisely.”
Internships, says Judge, put students in the actual fields they hope to work in and offer students opportunities to solidify their choice of direction. Students at Anderson University not only find internships through faculty contacts but also through programs unique to AU, such as the Center for Public Service. They also practice leadership skills and communication skills, demonstrate their value as hard workers, and even cross cultural boundaries through programs such as Campus Ministries and Tri-S.
[Photo: Laurie Judge, director of the AU Career Development Center]
One characteristic that makes AU students unique is their desire to complete internships in non-profit arenas as well as with for-profit companies. “Students at AU have a desire to serve,” says Judge. “Even our business students tend to want to work in businesses that impact people’s lives.”
The skill that Judge cannot stress enough to students who come into her office is the ability to communicate well. “Employers across the board, no matter what the major, seek employees who can communicate effectively, not only verbally but also in written forms, such as email,” she says. “Those kinds of skills tend to be more focused upon in a liberal arts curriculum. The liberal arts ask students to think critically, to conduct and analyze research, to make informed decisions, and to come up with real solutions to problems.”
Working with employers seeking interns, Judge is in a position to receive feedback on an employer’s experience with an AU intern. “Employers tend to say our students have a good work ethic. That is typically the first thing they say,” says Judge. “The second thing they say is our students are well-mannered, professional, and show initiative.” These positive experiences lead employers to offer more internships to future students and jobs to alumni. Judge cites SandRidge Energy as an example. “SandRidge Energy is one of the companies that loves our graduates. We have several AU alumni working there now.”
To truly see the value of a liberal arts education, Morris says you have to take a long view. People change careers more often because of change of interest, a change in their industry, or the introduction of new technology. Her own father began his career and retired as a boilermaker. He worked for the same company, rising to the top of the company ladder. “That’s not today’s world,” says Morris. “Our world is changing so rapidly, and people need to be able to adapt. Long-term or lifetime productivity, earning ability, and employability are greater with a liberal arts education.”
Liberal Arts Education = Higher Earning Potential
Brent Baker, vice president for students affairs at AU, tells students the least favorite part of his job is to stand up in front of the student body in chapel each spring to announce that next year’s tuition, room, board, and fees have been released. The increases for 2013-2014 were the lowest in the last 40 years of the university's history, but it was still a difficult job. In a letter he wrote to students for the Andersonian, he writes, “It is still tough news because I know what a sacrifice it is for so many of you to be here at Anderson University.” But, Baker shares, a four-year college degree pays off in the long run.
[Photo: Dr. Brent Baker, vice president for student affairs]
Baker researched statistics compiled by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a professional association for not-for-profit, private institutions of higher education: The lifetime earning potential of someone with a bachelor’s degree is $1 million more than a worker without a bachelor’s degree. Baker writes, “A 2010 study reported that those with bachelor’s degrees earned an average of $78,000, compared to $49,000 for associate degree holders to $29,000 for those with only a high school diploma.”
At the time Baker’s article was published, the national unemployment rate was 8 percent, but among individuals with four-year degrees, the unemployment rate was only 3.9 percent. For those individuals who were underemployed, the rate was 14 percent for four-year college graduates compared to 42 percent for those who only had a high school diploma.
In Indiana, says Judge, the top jobs are in life sciences or biosciences. “That is a big industry in the state of Indiana,” she says. “In fact, Indiana is only one of five states in the country with a strength in the area of life sciences.” Indiana is also strong in the field of supply-chain logistic, especially in the field of health care. For someone to successfully make inroads in the field of logistics, Judge says they not only need a four-year degree but also those problem-solving, critical-thinking, data-interpretation skills students in liberal arts universities obtain. And of the top 50 jobs on the “hot list” for Indiana, 32 require a bachelor’s degree.
Liberal Arts Education at AU = Five Essential Core Values
In his article, Baker went on to share the value of a liberal arts education specifically at Anderson University that is not measured in dollar amounts or employment rates. First is an opportunity to discover a passion for some area of study that can make a difference in the world. Second, there is the opportunity to be in a community where lifelong friendships develop — with other students, faculty, coaches, resident directors, university student employers, and so on. Third, Baker points to the opportunity to explore faith or even discover faith in Christ for the first time. “There is a wonderful opportunity to discover new aspects of who Jesus is and was through his Word, and what his call on your life means in terms of the development of your faith and character,” writes Baker.
A culmination of these opportunities, says Baker, leads students to their callings. “Your education, relationships, and growing faith come together so that you leave [AU] not only with friends, faith, and a diploma, but also with a sense of what you are called to do in this world.”
A few years ago, Anderson University determined five core values to filter into the liberal arts education and the life of the campus community and develop roots in every student graduating from the institution: integrity, excellence, servant leadership, responsibility, and generosity.
"Living out the values of AU is almost counter-cultural in today’s business and civic context," says Dr. James Edwards, president of Anderson University. "Such commitments are rare in these times, and those who live by them stand out in distinctive ways."
[Photo: Dr. James L. Edwards, president]
Edwards explains that these five values are rooted in the history of Anderson University and the Church of God. These values build trust and promote the mission of the university “to educate for a life of faith and service in the church and society.” They also set AU graduates apart from other prospective employees.
"Student success is a constant and driving agenda for Anderson University," says Edwards. "The idea is that one can answer a sacred call in life and pursue a vocation through all programs. Underlying this belief is the notion that as these values are lived out they provide a foundation for the pursuit of knowledge and truth. These values open doors to responsible and effective service in all of society where engaged citizens are vital to the public good. Such mature and prepared graduates are greatly prized and welcomed into fulfilling opportunities in distinguished careers. It is no accident that the placement rate for graduates is so exemplary.”
— Reposted from Signatures, Fall 2013.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.