October 24, 2017

Three female leaders in higher education gathered at Susquehanna University Friday, Oct. 20, in advance of President Jonathan D. Green’s inauguration to discuss the value, misunderstandings and future of liberal arts education.

The liberal arts is often conflated with liberal politics, said Lynn C. Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and mistakenly viewed as a path that will not provide degrees that lead to jobs.

But at small liberal arts universities like Susquehanna, students get in-depth study in their specific area of interest, as well as intellectual and practical skills—such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills—that help them adapt throughout their lives to a highly competitive and ever-changing workplace.

Case in point: This spring, Zippia ranked Susquehanna first in Pennsylvania and ninth in the nation in a list of the colleges and universities with the highest employment rates of its graduates.

But beyond job placement, the liberal arts is most valuable to those who have been historically excluded from higher education—individuals of color and of lower socioeconomic status—said Mary Dana Hinton, president of the College of Saint Benedict. In 2014, the New York Times ranked Susquehanna ninth in the U.S. in a list of the country’s most economically diverse colleges and universities.

“The liberal arts educate for freedom, they educate for liberty, they educate for transformation,” Hinton said. “They represent an entire family’s hopes and dreams to open up a door and pathway to a whole community of people.”

A clear majority of parents see a college degree as the key to their children’s success. S. Georgia Nugent, senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, believes the country’s small, liberal arts colleges and universities are the best places to earn one. Her hope moving forward is for a remarrying of traditional liberal arts with the preprofessional programs parents find so pragmatic.

“Small campuses offer more opportunities for growth and the development of lifelong relationships,” she said. “The feeling that someone cares about you—which is a key indicator of success—that’s what small, liberal arts colleges provide.”