I count myself among the fortunate few to have received a liberal arts education.
Like many 18 year olds, I went to college unsure of my career path. I first focused my studies in mathematics, took a course in psychology on a whim, and decided to major in both fields. I grew to know my faculty, and they me. I worked in their labs, conducted my own research under their supervision, and was encouraged to pursue graduate school in psychology -- opportunities that I would not have considered without their support. My educational experience was academically rigorous and intensely personal.
I couldn't have asked for better preparation for my career and life.
Even in this era of increasing specialization, economic uncertainty, and employment concerns, I love talking about the merits of a residential liberal arts education. I certainly understand that this type of educational experience is not what every student wants and does not fit the life situation of all students. But as a liberal arts college graduate and president, I have seen its impact first-hand. Liberal arts colleges provide wide-ranging learning opportunities -- not only for those with clear academic and professional paths, but also for students (like me) who benefit greatly from the ability to explore their options.
While many -- including President Obama --have demonstrated a cavalier attitude toward the humanities in our global marketplace, a January 2014 report from the Association of American Colleges & Universities affirmed the liberal arts' value. In fact, the study revealed that liberal arts majors' earnings are comparable to those who major in professional and pre-professional fields. That's because no matter what one studies -- neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, art history, Chinese Studies, mathematics, or English -- the over-arching goals are the same: learn to think critically, call upon a variety of approaches in solving complex problems, communicate effectively, and gain an understanding and appreciation of diverse cultural perspectives. These findings show what 74 percent of employers told us this time last year: What better preparation could there be for a world that is fast-changing and globally interconnected, for careers that are ever-evolving, and for jobs that don't yet exist?
Furthermore, while financial security is certainly important, most would agree that life satisfaction is about more than one's earnings. That's where a residential experience comes into play. Along with their classroom knowledge, our students learn citizenship, integrity, inclusiveness, and emotional intelligence. They engage in public service, lead student organizations, write for the school newspaper, intern in campus offices, debate policy issues, participate in leadership building exercises, study abroad, and live with students from different backgrounds. These experiences complement and support their intellectual development and prepare them for engaging civic and personal lives.
And what about cost?
There is no question that an education like this is expensive. That's why last year Gettysburg College awarded more than $45 million in financial aid to make our education available to students from all economic backgrounds. Nearly 70 percent of our students receive aid, and their average loans at the time of graduation are less than the national average. That is a tremendous investment in their individual futures. And given the positive impact that they will have in their careers, in their communities, and in the world, it's also an investment in our collective future.
We believe -- I believe -- that's an investment worth making.