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Liberal Arts Grads Report High Satisfaction, New Study Finds

A new study of the graduates of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, including Washington and Lee University, has found that alumni of these institutions report higher levels of satisfaction with their college experience than graduates of any other types of colleges.

The study was commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America’s leading liberal arts institutions. W&L is one of 130 residential liberal arts institutions that compose the organization. The member schools commissioned the survey to determine how their graduates perceive their undergraduate experience.

Conducted by Hardwick Day, a higher-education consulting firm, the study is based on 2,700 telephone interviews. An earlier study was conducted in 2002, and the current data were collected during the summer of 2011. The study explored the lasting effects of college in such areas as career preparation and advancement, skill development, development of personal and professional values and attitude, and community involvement.

Some of the key findings:

  • 75 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as “excellent,” compared to 53 percent for graduates of flagship public universities;
  • 79 percent of liberal arts college graduates report benefiting “very much” from high-quality teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for alumni of flagship public universities;
  • 88 percent of liberal arts graduates said there was a sense of community among students, compared to 79 percent for private universities and 63 percent for public flagship universities;
  • 89 percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor or role model, most frequently a professor, while in college, compared with 66 percent for public flagship universities.
  • 56 percent of liberal arts college graduated reported that they worked directly with professors on independent study or faculty-directed research compared with 42 percent at private universities and 35 percent at public flagship universities.

“Although the results of this study are not at all surprising to those of us who have long understood the benefits of the liberal arts model of education, it is heartening to see that alumni of our institutions report a strong sense of satisfaction,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “In particular, the impressive percentage (89 percent) of those who indicate that they found a mentor while in college speaks to what we at Washington and Lee have always valued so highly in our teacher-scholars.”

Liberal arts college graduates also are more likely to graduate in four years or less, giving them a head start on their careers. Several of the results were directly concerned with career preparation. For instance:

  • 60 percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt “better prepared” for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities;
  • 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 public flagship universities.

James H. Day, director of the study and a principal of Hardwick Day, notes that “on virtually all measures known to contribute to positive outcomes, graduates of liberal arts colleges rate their experience more highly than do graduates of private or public universities.”  He added that 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 was the case in the 2002  survey. The increase was particularly pronounced for graduates of liberal arts colleges, who went from 66 to 77 percent, and of public universities, who went from 41 to 53 percent.

The study found that graduates of liberal arts colleges are more likely than graduates of both private and public universities to give their college a high effectiveness rating for helping them learn to write and speak effectively.

In addition, the study concluded 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.

A PDF version of the study’s executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation of the findings are available at the links below:

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459