Sandwiched between family vacations and student work schedules this
summer will be the inevitable road trips to visit institutions of
higher learning for families whose sons and daughters are approaching
Summer can be a good time to visit a campus. Faculty and students
who are around typically have more time to spend chatting with prospective
students and answering their questions. On the downside though,
students may not get a realistic view of what the campus is like when
school is in session, and some institutions may compensate for deferred
maintenance of buildings and classrooms by investing in more affordable
landscaping. It’s definitely a good idea to return in fall,
when students can actually attend classes and stay overnight in student
residences: the best source of current and realistic guidance about
a college comes from current students and young alumni.
As I talk with families who are considering our campus for their
sons or daughters, one refrain that I frequently hear is the concern
about the value of a college degree. Many of our students will be
the first in their families to graduate from college, and for almost
all, higher education will represent a major investment. Parents and
students themselves ask about prospective majors and employment opportunities.
“Will I be able to make a living as a ________ after graduation?”
Neither I nor any other college official can truthfully answer “yes”
to such a question because in a volatile global marketplace, today’s
“hot” careers can quickly cool. Who, for example, could
have predicted the urgent need for college graduates knowledgeable
about terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs before 9/11? We do know,
however, that over a lifetime, a college education on average translates
to more than a million dollars in earnings over the average salaries
of high school graduates.
Further, while we cannot begin to assess an individual student’s
opportunities for career success, we can provide feedback from employers
of our graduates, who continue to seek young men and women who can
communicate successfully, who possess strong analytical skills and
who can exert leadership when needed. While American employers tell
us that they need graduates who can read, write and speak well, with
strong computer literacy and basic math skills, they are not as much
interested in technical skills as in some of the “soft”
skills that liberal arts colleges are so successful at inculcating.
It’s no surprise that small institutions produce a disproportionate
number of national leaders, because at colleges of national distinction
such as Bethany, students have a greater opportunity to become actively
involved in student life and to develop the self-confidence that translates
into later career success. Again and again, when I talk with alumni
and their families, they tell me that the most important skill they
gained at liberal arts colleges was the knowledge that they could
rise to new challenges and to succeed.
While liberal arts education has never really gone out of style,
too often, we as educators have not properly translated its benefits
to students and families. There are many persistent myths that we
have let stand; one of these is the false impression that a liberal
arts education and career preparation are mutually exclusive. Nothing
could be further from the truth.
Students also tend to graduate on time from smaller colleges and
universities in higher percentages than from larger institutions,
based primarily on higher levels of support from faculty and their
fellow students and upon a greater sense of community. Transfers from
larger colleges say that they learned and grew from the opportunity
to talk with their professors outside of class, to know them on a
When it comes to college selection, there’s no such thing as
a “one size fits all” choice. In my own family, my elder
daughter has thrived as a student-athlete at a small liberal arts
college and is now pursuing a doctor of pharmacy at another small
school, while her younger sister will graduate from a large public
institution next spring. Both changed their minds many times during
the college selection process, and no doubt, your son or daughter
In the end, the student’s “gut feel” is often the
deciding factor. Armed with factual information, national statistics
and first-hand involvement with current students and alumni, your
student and family will be better able to make an informed decision.
Happy trails to you!
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
President of the College
To see Dr. Miller's biography:
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