The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs
Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment
Richard A. Detweiler
Available from Penguin Random House, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Local Bookstores Globally
The Remarkable Impact of Liberal Arts Education. While the short term value of a higher education – employability and higher income – are well known, new research demonstrates that much greater life impact, benefitting both the individual and society, comes from the use of educational approaches associated with liberal arts education.
In ongoing debates over the value of a college education, the role of the liberal arts in higher education has been incorrectly blamed by some for making college expensive, impractical, and even worthless. Defenders argue that liberal arts education makes society innovative, creative, and civic-minded. But these qualities are hard to quantify, and many critics of higher education call for courses of study to be strictly job-specific. This groundbreaking book -- drawing on interviews with more than 1,000 college graduates of a wide diversity of institutions (large and small, public and private, liberal arts and non-liberal arts), aged 25 to 65 -- offers empirical evidence for the value of liberal arts educational experiences. These experiences, characteristic of higher education at all American colleges for more than two centuries, though found today about twice as often at liberal arts colleges, have a lasting impact on success, leadership, altruism, learning, and fulfillment over a lifetime.
Unlike other defenses of a liberal arts education, this work doesn't rely on philosophical arguments or anecdotes but on data. A series of interview questions were developed related to content of study attributes of liberal arts (for example, course assignments and majors), the educational context (out-of-class interaction with faculty and students, teaching methods, campus life), and the purpose of the education (adult life outcomes). Interview responses show that although both the content of study and the educational context are associated with significant life outcomes, the context of study has a more substantial relationship to positive adult life outcomes than the educational content.
Most fundamentally, this book is a call for courage. Each college must be courageous by assuring it is truly fulfilling the purpose, content, and context of liberal arts education; asserting the importance and value of education in the tradition of the liberal arts; and developing and supporting policies and programs that clearly and directly fulfill this purpose. Students must courageously choose colleges that will help them fulfill their longer-term life aspirations and ignore those that seek to influence their choice based simply on reputation on short-term criteria (such as first job income) – virtually any college degree results in higher income and lower unemployment. And those who seek to shape the direction of higher education must strengthen American-style, liberal arts based, education and courageously reject changes based on simple but inaccurate understandings of what matters in college.