What sets a liberal arts education apart?

What sets a liberal arts education apart?

Think back to when you chose to attend Loras College. You certainly had a reason. It could have been anything from academics, to sports, to the campus community and atmosphere. For most people, school size also plays a large role in their college decision. Of course, Loras College is a small, liberal arts college. We all chose to come here – but why? What sets a liberal arts education apart?

“There are a lot of studies indicating that students who attend liberal arts schools are more successful than their large-school counterparts,” Dr. Adam Moser explained. “There’s plenty of data which documents that, but no one says why. What’s the secret sauce about a small liberal arts school that makes these outcomes possible?”

One study published by Richard A. Detweiler may have the answer.

“In general, his data suggests that the relationships [faculty and staff] build with the students are the secret sauce that leads to their future success,” Dr. Adam Moser said, summarizing the research. “Graduates who had meaningful relationships with their professors had lots of positive outcomes.”

Associate Dean of Students Kim Walsh can also attest to these positive outcomes experienced by Loras graduates.

“Students with liberal arts degrees tend to possess many of the qualities, skill sets, and aptitudes that are in highest demand in the workforce, such as communication skills, teamwork skills and analytical skills,” Walsh said. “Students with liberal arts degrees learn how to learn. Students develop a passion for learning and carry it with them for the rest of their lives. A variety of careers are available to you with a liberal arts degree, and employment rates are looking good for liberal arts majors – many employers believe they acquire a broad range of skills.”

In his study, Detweiler focused on student outcomes, surveying around a thousand college graduates. Half of his interviewees received their degree from a liberal arts college, and half did not. The key to this study was that Detweiler wasn’t focused on the perceived value of their institution or liberal arts education; rather, Detweiler focused on their experiences in college and their experiences after college. What Detweiler found was consistent with what Dr. Moser and Kim Walsh said – that our graduates have success in their careers after acquiring a liberal arts degree. But what is the cause of that success? Positive experiences.

According to Detweiler’s study, graduates who had more positive experiences in college – students who participated in class discussions, discussed philosophical or ethical issues in their classes, had a good relationship with their professors, and knew their professors knew their name – tended to have greater measures of life success. So that “secret sauce” mentioned above boils down to these things, which we almost take for granted at Loras. But it’s these aspects of Loras that makes our education so unique and fulfilling for students here. Do we recognize these benefits while attending this institution?

“I believe [students] do, post-graduation,” Walsh answered. “While they are in college, I think most students struggle. I often hear students say that they can’t wait to get the general education components ‘over with.’”

Although taking courses outside our majors may cause a bit of disgruntlement at times, Loras students can’t deny that the advanced general education curriculum is enriching and intellectually stimulating. We can certainly recognize the value of taking courses outside our major – and a diverse group of courses, at that. While faculty and staff can certainly get behind the Liberal Arts aspect of Loras’ identity, students here appreciate this style of education just as much.

“Liberal arts education is set apart from other modes of curriculum with the implementation of interdisciplinary courses,” said junior Zach Ney. “Such classes, such as our advanced general education requirements at Loras, instill both an appreciation for the connection between disciplines, but also offer a challenge for students to step out of their comfort zones. Both in undergraduate education and the dreaded ‘real-world’, being able to communicate within your field of study is important, but it is almost equally critical (if not more) to be able to communicate with others in different disciplines. Accordingly, I believe the most important aspect of a liberal arts education (and what sets it apart) is the implementation of curriculum that encourage interdisciplinary communication and learning.”

Another student, junior Jessalyn Roling agreed with this sentiment. “Because of my liberal arts education, I am becoming a well-rounded and informed person,” Roling said. “My wide variety of courses have given me the opportunity to discover several different fields of interest, guiding me as I discover all of my strengths. My liberal arts education has allowed me to get involved in several organizations and find jobs and internships throughout campus. Most importantly, my time at a liberal arts institution introduced me to a wide variety of incredible professors and students who challenge and motivate me every day.”

Although the specific “Liberal Arts” aspect of Loras may or may not have been what initially drew you to attend Loras – considering the sports, community, and specific academic programs that often draw students – it’s likely the reason you’ll have great career outcomes after graduation. So embrace the advanced gen. ed.’s, speak up in classes, and spend some extra time in your professors’ offices. Your future career will benefit from all the important, individualized attention you’re receiving with your liberal arts education.

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Audrey Miller

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Audrey Miller is a writer for The Lorian.

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