female student in library

Guest post by Jamiere N. Abney, Ed.M.

As a product of a Liberal Arts education, and now a professional promoting this type of postsecondary experience, I hear tons of conversation about the relative value of the Liberal Arts in today’s world. A 2020 article from the Washington Post asks whether this education is a “waste of money or practical investment?” For many students in conversation with admission professionals, like myself, this is the very discussion they will have with their parents as they choose where they will spend their undergraduate years.

One of the first concerns for many private, residential Liberal Arts colleges is the immense cost. The “sticker-price” shock of tuition and fees that often are over $70,000 per year is a tough place to start. This is especially true for first-generation low-income (FGLI) students, students who identify as Black Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, out-of-state students, and the intersections of these demographic categories. As a first-generation college graduate and Black male professional, I can empathize with students and families about how to feel comfortable committing to the major cost of attendance.

All of this before seeing majors such as Classical Studies or Peace and Conflict Studies – two of the fifty-six academic majors offered at my employer, Colgate University. Many Liberal Arts focused campus’ academic programs don’t even include “practical” or job-specific majors like business or nursing. For many, the lack of pragmatic options makes the Liberal Arts a turnoff when thinking about a college education. However, much is lost in translation when thinking about the rich academic and hands-on opportunities offered within these types of higher education institutions.

If you imagine a career requiring a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) level graduate degree, you will be excited to find that many top feeder schools for PhD earners are Liberal Arts colleges and universities. Even if a commitment to the long-term classroom experience that comes with a PhD is not a fit, you can still find incredible value in the balanced approach offered by the Liberal Arts. In fact, a 2017 study highlighted how students in the Liberal Arts find immense value in typical characteristics such as access to faculty and smaller, discussion based classes, while also leading to long-term financial success.

Key points to consider –

  • Having relationships with and access to your professors is valuable to help you get involved with research and internships. At Colgate over 80% of students are involved in research. Further, these people who advise and teach you become your recommenders for job opportunities for your first jobs out of college.
  • Small classes allow you to build close relationships with your peers. You also have deep discussion and conversation that push you to build your communication skills, a valuable tool no matter what industry you decide to pursue a career in.
  • Many small colleges have students from across the country and the world as part of their community. This exposure to diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and culture, will make you more comfortable in a workplace with an ever-expanding community of individuals that you will work alongside.

Aside from high cost, another consistent concern is a history of these colleges having a student community that is predominantly affluent and white. However, many colleges have committed to ways to diversify and adequately support students of all backgrounds. This includes taking steps to ensure the high cost is not a deterrent. At Colgate, this comes through a commitment to only offer financial aid based on students’ financial need.  Additionally, the college promises to meet 100% of demonstrated need for ALL admitted students. While there is immense work to go around access, equity, and inclusion, institutions are working vigorously to attract strong scholars of all backgrounds while also establishing resources to ensure all students can thrive.

A Liberal Arts education is not the ideal fit for all students. However, it does provide an incredible foundation for an ever-changing employment marketplace. Students will have a central academic focus, but also retain the flexibility and freedom to learn beyond a singular academic area. This, combined with access to study internationally, conduct research, and build a strong network, are all key to launching recent graduates into the workforce with the confidence and skills to excel. As a Black male with a Liberal Arts background, a Master’s degree in Education, and a current scholar for my Doctor of Education, I have illustrated the immense value of the core skills introduced in this type of educational environment. From my own personal experience, and time as an admission professional representing Liberal Arts colleges, I am confident at the many avenues of success young scholars and their families will find available to them.

About the Author:

Jamiere Abney is Associate Dean of Admission and Coordinator of Outreach for Opportunity & Inclusion at Colgate University, where he leads diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for the admissions process. Through his leadership, Colgate enrolled its most diverse first-year class in its 200-year history in the fall of 2020. Abney is a 2012 graduate of Willamette University where he studied psychology. He began his higher education career at his alma mater, returning in 2014 to join the admission team. As a first-generation college graduate, Abney has sought opportunities to be a reliable support for young people seeking achievement and access to opportunity. He took this a step further, earning his Master’s in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2017. He has been a guest on multiple podcasts, including Black & Highly Dangerous and On the Mic with Ray White, and is a guest host with The Barbershop Group, an organization focused on improving the mental health and emotional well-being of men from all walks of life. Currently, Abney is promoting a manuscript of a biographical self-help book based on the impact of race on his adolescence.

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