As the former president of Kenyon College and now a senior fellow for the Council of Independent Colleges, I am dismayed by the many myths surrounding the value of a liberal arts education.
The Council of Independent Colleges represents more than 600 small private colleges around the country. These schools are thriving despite media reports to the contrary. They are graduating students with critical thinking skills, independent judgment and a taste for lifelong learning.
Here are the five big myths surrounding liberal arts education -- and why you shouldn't believe them:
- Liberal arts education is only for the elite -- In fact, private liberal arts colleges enroll the same or a slightly higher percentage of low-income and under-represented students than do the flagship public universities. Nearly one-third of all private college students are from low-income backgrounds. Even more important, all students -- but especially under-represented or low-income students -- graduate at higher rates and in a shorter amount of time when they enroll at liberal arts colleges.
We only need to look to our business leaders to see the value of a liberal arts education. Michael Eisner of Disney majored in English and theatre at Denison; the CEO of Procter & Gamble was a French and history major at Hamilton College. Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson majored in English. Harold Varmus, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and one-time head of the National Institutes of Health, majored in English, as did the former CEO of Xerox and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
At the Council of Independent Colleges, we are collecting stories of liberal arts graduates and what they have done with their educations. Thus far, we have astronauts, entrepreneurs, opera singers and inventors. The real question should not be what can you do with a liberal arts degree, rather, what can't you do with a degree in English, or philosophy, or French?
The facts are that liberal arts graduates are leaving school with manageable debt and they are finding jobs. There is without doubt a place for successful people in our society, and many, many of them have their educational foundation solidly from the liberal arts.