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New study suggests that choice of college really matters

Does the type of school an undergraduate attends really make a difference? A new survey of college and university alumni suggests that it does.

The undergraduate experience at small residential liberal arts colleges is more effective in producing desirable outcomes both during and after the college experience than at large public universities and other institutions of higher education, according to a national survey released Dec. 16 by the Annapolis Group Web site.

The comparative alumni survey was commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of 112 of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, including Bates. The study was conducted by the independent research firm Hardwick Day of Minneapolis, Minn. It was based on interviews with 1,571 alumni from five types of schools: Annapolis Group liberal arts colleges, private universities, the top 50 public universities (as ranked in U.S. News & World Report), national flagship public universities and regional public universities.

“It is gratifying if not surprising to anyone associated with Bates,” said Bates College President Elaine Tuttle Hansen, “when a research study confirms what we know: small liberal arts colleges can model and, through the lives of their alumni, help to build a culture of personal aspiration and achievement balanced by compassion and commitment to others.

“The findings of this particular survey focus on the individual satisfaction and accomplishment of those who attend colleges like Bates, and I hope the results will help spread the word about our value to those who may not know it first-hand – to parents and prospective students, employers, policy-makers, foundations and philanthropists, as well as to the general public.”

The Annapolis Group study indicates that a residential, liberal arts education not only leads to a number of immediate positive outcomes, but that these outcomes are present in and important to liberal arts college alumni long after their college experience has ended.

Some of the findings:

  • Liberal arts college graduates are more likely than any other group to have graduated in four years or less. They also report higher overall satisfaction with their undergraduate education than alumni of any other type of college or university.
  • Liberal arts college graduates are significantly more likely than graduates of other types of colleges to hold a graduate degree and to feel better prepared for life after college.
  • Alumni from Annapolis Group liberal arts colleges report closer interaction with professors, greater involvement in experiential learning and extracurricular activities, and an emphasis on values and ethics that is often absent at public universities.
  • Graduates of small, residential liberal arts colleges credit their undergraduate experience for helping them develop a broad range of skills important to their everyday lives (problem-solving, making effective decisions, thinking analytically, writing effectively, relating to people of different backgrounds and developing new skills). These broad skills – more than the undergraduate major itself – helped grads get their first job or gain admission to graduate school, and have continued to help with career changes or advancement. Annapolis Group alumni say these skills have remained extremely important in their lives after college.
  • Liberal arts college alumni have strong personal values, and place importance on a range of activities: contributing to the community, participating in organizations that help disadvantaged members of society, promoting racial equality or other social justice issues, using their best skills and abilities, and having the freedom to consider moral and ethical aspects of decisions.
  • Although alumni of Annapolis Group colleges are involved in their communities at about the same rate as alumni of other types of schools, Annapolis Group alumni are more likely than other alumni to remain involved with their schools after graduation.


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