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  • Liberal Arts Graduates: What Employers Need to Know

    March 09, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    Liberal arts students graduate from college.

    TAGS: graduate outcomes, counseling, surveys, liberal arts, spotlight

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    When reading or listening to interviews of corporate leaders describing the skills and qualities their organizations value in the new college graduates they seek, Richard Detweiler hears a disconnect between these identified organizational needs and the realities of candidate selection.

    “Corporate leaders invariably describe the need to have people who know how to think, work in teams, and learn new information to problem solve,” explains Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association and founder of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance. “They note that their organizations can provide the technical training to new hires who possess these qualities.”

    However, instead of considering liberal arts graduates for openings, hiring managers tend to focus on candidates’ technical and specialized training and experience.

    “They end up emphasizing the more specialized information rather than the kind of experiences in college that will pay off for the organization for the longer term, which includes hiring the people who end up being leaders and who end up advancing through the organization,” Detweiler says.

    “In fact, these are the liberal arts graduates. Employers need to place a priority on looking at the liberal arts preparation of prospective employees.”

    Detweiler recently conducted research to generate data and insight that shows a direct link between the undergraduate experience and success in career and life. He performed a cross-sectional study of 1,000 college graduates—some from liberal arts colleges and others from a random sample of U.S. colleges—at 10, 20, and 40 years post-graduation.

    “The study asked questions about their undergraduate educational experiences and about their lives since college in an objective fashion,” Detweiler says. “This is not based on their opinions.”

    Detweiler—who is writing a book based on his research—found that liberal arts graduates are more likely to be leaders, contributors, and civically engaged than those college graduates who, he says, didn’t have liberal arts graduates’ “breadth and range of education.”

    In gathering his data, Detweiler also dispelled several myths: that there aren’t employment opportunities after college for liberal arts majors, that the competencies liberal arts graduates developed in college don’t end up being useful, and that the liberal arts is not a path to lifetime success.

    “Over time, [studying in the liberal arts] does pay off with a more viable future than these graduates might have had if they specialized more,” Detweiler says.

    Richard Detweiler will present “The Liberal Arts Surprise: Guidance to Students and their Employers” during NACE16.