The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs
Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment
Richard A. Detweiler
Empirical evidence for the value of a liberal arts education: how and why it has a lasting impact on success, leadership, altruism, learning, and fulfillment.
In ongoing debates over the value of a college education, the role of the liberal arts in higher education has been blamed by some for making college expensive, impractical, and even worthless. Defenders argue that liberal arts education makes society innovative, creative, and civic-minded. But these qualities are hard to quantify, and many critics of higher education call for courses of study to be strictly job-specific. In this groundbreaking book, Richard Detweiler, drawing on interviews with more than 1,000 college graduates aged 25 to 65, offers empirical evidence for the value of a liberal arts education. Detweiler finds that a liberal arts education has a lasting impact on success, leadership, altruism, learning, and fulfillment over a lifetime.
Unlike other defenders of a liberal arts education, Detweiler doesn’t rely on philosophical arguments or anecdotes but on data. He developed a series of interview questions related to the content attributes of liberal arts (for example, course assignments and majors), the context attributes (out-of-class interaction with faculty and students, teaching methods, campus life), and the purpose attributes (adult life outcomes). Interview responses show that although both the content of study and the educational context are associated with significant life outcomes, the content of study has less relationship to positive adult life outcomes than the educational context. The implications of this research, Detweiler points out, range from the advantages of broadening areas of study to factors that could influence students’ decisions to attend certain colleges.