Liberal Arts and Life Impact

While the short term value of a higher education – employability and higher income – are well known, recent research demonstrates that much greater life impact comes through the use of educational approaches associated with liberal arts education. These outcomes, which are of importance to both the individual and society, include:

  • leadership;

  • greater contributions to society;

  • higher levels of post-graduate education;

  • more participation in cultural organizations and events;

  • increased satisfaction with life and career; and

  • personal success, including leading or owning companies and other organizations.

These types of outcomes are associated with colleges and universities that place priority on, and operate in accordance with, the following principles, each of which may seem obvious but are challenging to implement in ways that are truly effective:

  • creating an authentic learning community in which students, faculty, and staff interact with each other in meaningful ways, both formally and informally;

  • nonvocational learning, emphasizing study of the full span of knowledge;

  • using engaging methods of teaching and learning;

  • learning experiences that develop larger perspectives and broaden understanding;

  •  and

  • developing analytic ability and creativity.


The effective use of these principles is not trivial; they require institutional leadership, faculty, and staff to work in concert to not only align priorities but to implement plans and priorities that accomplish the desired impact on the lives of graduates and society. 


Each of these characteristics are attributes of an education in the tradition of the liberal arts – an approach developed and refined over millennia. It can be said to be the most globally inclusive approach to higher education, having roots in ancient Greece and Rome; developing in essential ways during the Islamic Golden Age, including contributions from Asia, evolving in Europe during the Renaissance and Enlightenment; and establishing its contemporary form in the United States. 

For more information on new research on liberal arts educational principles and practices

contact Rick Detweiler at