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Does a Liberal Arts Degree Increase Community Leadership?

February 29, 2016

 Recent research suggests that college graduates with liberal arts degrees are more likely to become community leaders and lead more satisfying lives.  Richard A. Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Associations, presented his research on the value of a liberal arts education at a meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed attended Detweiler’s presentation and reported on the results.

Detweiler’s research compared graduates with liberal arts degrees 10, 20, and 40 years after graduation with graduates who earned all other types of degrees.  Detweiler’s initial research showed the following:


  • Liberal arts graduates were 30-100% more likely to show leadership in their

    everyday lives.  This was based on whether others sought their advice, asked them to serve as mentors, or elected them to leadership positions in social, cultural, professional, and political groups.

  • Liberal arts graduates were 26-66% more likely to volunteer, give to charity, vote regularly, or otherwise contribute meaningfully to their communities.

  • Liberal arts graduates were 25-35% more likely to be satisfied with their lives and professions if they engaged in undergraduate conversations with those who disagreed with them.  

  • One of the key factors was the amount of critical thinking that those with liberal arts degrees engaged in. 


Detweiler’s study is particularly interesting in an era of rising college costs, when the ability to land a job immediately after college is often viewed as the most important aspect of selecting a college major.  For instance, in 2014, Forbes published an article criticizing liberal arts degrees and suggesting that it would be more beneficial in today’s job market to have no college degree than a liberal arts degree.  A year later, however, Forbes noted that liberal arts degrees were actually providing a significant advantage in the booming tech industry.  


Detweiler’s study is unique in the way that it focuses on the long-term benefit of liberal arts degrees, not simply the short-term gains.  He ultimately plans to turn his research into a book. 


What is your reaction and experience?  We would love to hear from you!  Please share with your thoughts with us by emailing us by clicking here.   


To read Scott Jaschik’s article, click here.  Hat tip to goodcall.com for this story. 

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