Home Online Education Access and Affordability Yes, Employers Do Value Liberal Arts Degrees…But Will That Change Public Opinion?
Yes, Employers Do Value Liberal Arts Degrees…But Will That Change Public Opinion?

Yes, Employers Do Value Liberal Arts Degrees…But Will That Change Public Opinion?

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Dr. Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) authored an article for the September 2019 Harvard Business Review touting the merits of liberal arts degrees. AAC&U represents institutions committed to the value of liberal arts programs. In fact, APUS is a member and recognized by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission as a liberal arts institution.

Dr. Pasquerella notes that “it’s no secret that American higher education is under siege” and adds that politicians have fueled this dynamic by proposing legislation that would base funding on students’ employment after graduation and requiring institutions to amend mission statements citing such aspirations as “search for truth,” “public service,” and “improving the human condition.” She adds that the “achieve the American Dream” vision has been decoupled from higher education, keeping many individuals from recognizing that colleges and universities still contribute substantially toward societal and institutional transformation.

According to Dr. Pasquerella, higher education institutions need to respond to the hue and cry that a college education is too expensive, too difficult to access, and does not teach students skills needed to survive in a 21st-century job market. I agree wholeheartedly. She discusses some of the findings from a recent AAC&U-sponsored employer research study, “Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work.” While I don’t necessarily disagree with these findings, I don’t believe this report will sway prevailing public opinion.

Does it surprise me that 500+ business executives and hiring managers expressed greater confidence in colleges and universities than the American public? No. After all, most of these companies are not expending or borrowing cash to pay for the degrees earned by their new employees. Why wouldn’t they agree that higher education is “an essential and worthwhile investment of time and money” when it’s generally not their money being invested or time away from work incurred by their employees? I wonder if the same findings would result were the questions only given to companies or organizations where most employees lack a degree and that provide substantial tuition benefits to employees.

The survey found that internships and apprenticeships were highly valued, with 93% of the executives and 94% of the hiring managers indicating they would be more likely to hire someone with this experience versus someone without it. Of course, they would! While I don’t have a supporting statistic, based on my experiences with children of friends and relatives who have recently attended colleges, most of those who received internships and apprenticeships were in the business school. The results further indicate that only 33% of executives and 30% of hiring managers believe that recent graduates are well prepared to apply knowledge and skills in actual job settings. It seems to me that this finding supports the previous one. Are there movements afoot in liberal arts institutions to provide internships and apprenticeships to students while they are attending schools? I can confirm from knowing a few students attending a few elite institutions that they have access to internships. I can’t confirm a broader participation from students at non-elite institutions. Perhaps the AAC&U can.

To her credit, Dr. Pasquerella calls for institutions to work with business and industry to develop 21st-century skills for the workplace. As a parent, I believe the business schools are much further along in helping their students develop those skills. As an educator AND a liberal arts grad, I think those partnerships with programs outside of the school of business need to occur now to change the court of public opinion about the value of a liberal arts degree. But will that change public opinion?

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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