What is the Value of a Liberal Arts Education?

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by Stacy Nemeth

Scholz KarlIn a lively presentation, UW-Madison College of Letters & Science Dean John Karl Scholz made the case for a liberal arts education, especially when it comes from UW-Madison. However, he stressed that the University needs the input of employers and alumni to make it happen.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings of people with less than a four-year degree dropped between 1979 and 2014, while those of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose 14.1 percent. Scholz was proud to report that the median student graduating from UW-Madison has no student debt. The almost 50 percent who do have student loans graduate with an average of $27,000 in debt. While that can be a significant factor in a new graduate’s life for several years, Scholz (an economist) compared it to an average return on investment of $500,000 to $1 million in additional earnings over a lifetime.

There are 35 departments in the College of Arts & Letters, encompassing the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities. The College offers nearly 60 percent of all credit hours at UW-Madison, according to Scholz. He noted that employers are looking for the skills and qualities that students gain in the College: a broad knowledge base, problem-solving skills, communication skills, especially writing, and critical thinking.

A recent survey of alumni who are one year out of college, or eight to ten years out, found that in general they have been successful in getting jobs. Their earnings are good, and 90 percent said they use their liberal arts education in their professional work. Scholz highlighted two recent graduates who have excelled: one becoming a Rhodes Scholar and the other a Marshall Scholar.

Outstanding research in Letters & Science includes the discovery of a new species of humans in our evolutionary history, and research projects examining the origins of the universe and international humanities. Scholz also noted that the UW Geology Museum is a gem which is visited by more than 50,000 school children per year.

Metrics for student success are good, including an average time-to-degree completion rate of 4.13 years and a 95.8 percent retention of freshmen. UW-Madison is rated ninth in the nation for best value for students.

But academic triumph has to be matched with cultivation of job and life skills in order to make students successful in their careers, particularly for first generation college students. That is why the College has launched the Letters & Science Career Initiative, which applies dedicated faculty and staff to work with alumni, employers and students. A new course for sophomores will help them reflect on their skills, define their aspirations and build on their strengths. Students will learn how to write a top-notch resume and build a professional network.

Another program, Career Kickstart, will create an immersive, residential learning community for 600 sophomores, with onsite academic advising and mentoring.

Scholz noted that no one is in a better position to help students build their professional network and succeed in a career than past graduates of UW-Madison who have done just that.  Alumni will be active in mentoring, doing informational interviews and offering internships. Scholz envisions that, through outreach and partnerships with employers, there will be more opportunities for students. UW Letters & Sciences seeks to be a “go-to place” for talent in the job marketplace.

Scholz was asked what we, as Rotarians, can do to help, and he asked us to help project the University’s success story throughout the state and beyond. He noted that state legislators will take note if they hear positive news about the university from “unexpected sources,” i.e., not university administrators.

CLICK to watch the video on our YouTube channel.

One response to “What is the Value of a Liberal Arts Education?

  1. more and more we must think to balance the academic conferences with arts and joy but in a very educational and mind opening way.
    This example of yours is a huge help and also could be seen as an advice in such new conference concepts.

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