University Business January 2018 - 14

Beyond the News
ACADEMIC AFFAIRS AND ADMISSIONS

Liberal arts degrees on the upswing
How new data helps schools make the ROI case
Despite the big push for STEM
majors and career-focused skills in
recent years, the liberal arts seem to
be making a resurgence. Liberal arts
degree programs in 2016 ranked No. 1
for most completions as well as for the
biggest increase in completions, higher
ed consulting firm Gray Associates
found in a recent analysis of IPEDS
preliminary data.
Liberal arts and sciences associate
degrees led all 1,400-plus IPEDS
Classification of Instructional
programs with 251,393 completions.
Among academic program groups,
postbaccalaureate certificates in liberal
arts and sciences, general studies
and humanities had the biggest
growth-56 percent (see chart).
"We were surprised to see the bump
up in completions for liberal arts," says
Bob Atkins, CEO and founder of Gray
Associates. Driving the growth may
be several factors, but what he finds
more compelling is that the findings
can provide administrators with a datasupported way to illustrate the value
of liberal arts.
"Liberal arts institutions have
indeed struggled with conveying the
complex notion of ROI on a liberal
arts education," says David Hawkins,
executive director for educational
content and policy for the National
Association for College Admission
Counseling. "Studies like this can play
a vital role in equipping admission
offices with information they can use
to assure students and families that the
investment they make in their education
pays dividends down the road."
Here are some ways these insights
14 | January 2018

WALL OF FAME-A rotating display, the Thomas College Alumni Spotlight
shows the personal and professional success of graduates of the Maine
institution. Created in 2016, it hangs in the college's main building, across from
the Professional and Career Development Office, as inspiration for students.

can help institutional leaders with
program planning and strategic
marketing communications:
Reinforce the assertion that liberal arts
degrees have high ROI potential.
"Many students and families are
primarily concerned about salaries.
Since completion is tied to higher
salaries in general, this study provides
an important and direct link to future
earnings potential," says Hawkins.
Institutions can also provide this link.
The University of Texas System's
seekUT database tool, for example,
educates students about how graduates
are faring, including those with liberal
arts degrees.
* Action plan: "A college must
demonstrate the desirable outcomes
of its own liberal arts graduates'
experience," says John Lawlor, founder
of The Lawlor Group, an education
marketing solutions firm. Campus
career services professionals, in

collaboration with the alumni office
and academic departments, could share
what the institution's liberal arts grads
have done professionally-via a "wall of
recognition" display (such as at Thomas
College, above) or through events that
create mentoring relationships between
current students and successful alumni.
Position liberal arts and technicalbased education as interdependent.
"Debating liberal arts versus technical
education doesn't work in the
machine-learning age," says Rich
Feller, a professor of counseling and
career development at Colorado State
University. Critical thinkers, strong
communicators and problem solvers
need technology literacy skills-and
the technically talented need a strong
liberal arts foundation, adds Feller,
who is past president of the National
Career Development Association.
* Action plan: Rich experiential
learning within liberal arts can help
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