From time to time I will turn the President’s Perspective over to a guest columnist. Here, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Lucien “Terry” Winegar speaks to a topic that is at the root of what is an Ursinus education.
– Bobby Fong
Dear Ursinus Community,
Frequently we hear or read some version of the question: Is a college degree worth it?
Our answer at Ursinus is an unequivocal and unhesitating, “Yes! A college degree is worth it, and an Ursinus College degree can be worth even more.”
This response gets to the crux of what a liberal arts education has always been, and to what we currently do at Ursinus with our “Liberal Arts Plus” model that leads to lifelong success.
A liberal arts education has always been about developing the whole person for a lifetime of achievement, and getting jobs is only one of the important goals for our students. However, Ursinus is also a place where our students can discover their interests and nurture their skills and their ambitions so they can not only find employment after graduation, but also realize their full potential in life. What we offer students is the opportunity to develop lifelong capacities that allow them to progress in their jobs and adapt to careers in an ever-changing world. Ursinus College graduates are able to think critically, communicate effectively, work cooperatively, and act ethically. These are characteristics that employers value, as confirmed by a study by Hart Research Associates, “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success.”
A recent column by New York Times writer Tom Friedman profiled a senior vice president in charge of hiring at Google. The VP, Laszlo Bock, describes qualities he seeks in hiring: “It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.”
The liberal arts have always been about the education and development of the whole student. But what the liberal arts had not always done well is communicate how our education supports future careers. In recognizing a need to improve in this area, I am reminded of an address to the Council of Independent Colleges by the President of another liberal arts college, David R. Anderson of St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Addressing criticisms of the liberal arts, he articulated in a simple statement the benefit and significance of a liberal arts education: “The most compelling value proposition will argue that a liberal arts education leads to financial independence, professional accomplishment and personal fulfillment.”
At Ursinus College, this kind of education is our institutional priority. Only three percent of Ursinus students report they are unemployed or not enrolled in an advanced degree program six months after graduation. Our students’ successes do not occur by happenstance, but as the result of our planned efforts to guide and assist our students for life after graduation. Most recently, we announced the news that our former Career Services Office is now the office of Career and Professional Development, reporting to the Dean’s Office and fully integrated with our academic program. This is not just a change in name and organizational structure, but rather a reflection of the critical role post-graduate student outcomes have always played in an Ursinus education. Here we start conversations about skills, interests and ambitions early in a student’s first year, and continue that emphasis by offering opportunities such as networking with alumni and friends, experiencing work settings with externships and internships, and providing empowering campus experiences such as research with a faculty, an entrepreneurship competition, small classes with faculty who are eager to teach and mentor, and opportunities for student leadership. Our Independent Learning Experience provides opportunities for students to work in non-profits abroad, do internships at local companies, and publish scientific research with their faculty collaborators.
The Career and Professional Development office sponsors the annual Job, Internship & Networking Fair.
President Fong likes to point out that 30% of college graduates eventually will find themselves in jobs that did not exist at the time of their graduation, and he is right. While we read that even late career professionals are losing their jobs and are challenged to find new positions, we are confident that an Ursinus education not only prepares our graduates for their first jobs, but also provides them a foundation for a lifetime of careers.
Parents of prospective students may worry about the practicality of a liberal arts education. However we know there is nothing more practical than educating a person to function successfully for a lifetime, not only in the world of work, but in their communities and the larger world.
Ursinus College is at the forefront of the movement of liberal arts colleges focusing on the transition from student to post-college life and careers. Our graduates bring teamwork abilities, communication skills and good judgment to the workplace. We are proud to hear from employers, graduate and professional school admissions committees, and prestigious post-graduate scholarship and fellowship foundations that our students are well prepared for the challenges after graduation, and that an Ursinus degree has value.
More than anything, hearing that is what leads us to say, “Yes, a college degree is worth it, and an Ursinus College degree can be worth even more.”
Dean Terry Winegar
Vice President for Academic Affairs
Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.