On Liberal Arts Education

Just read a nice blog entry written by a mother of a girl studying at Tufts about the benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. Was nice to hear the parent perspective and made me want to go back and re-read the essay that Gurcharan Das (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurcharan_Das) wrote years ago that I have kept handy for families in India that are unfamiliar with Liberal Arts Colleges. It is not as difficult these days to open a family's mind up to these opportunities as it was 6-7 years ago. Many of the colleges are traveling to India now, and many of the students who went to these smaller schools are now very successful and are spreading the news back home. Back in the day, I had to really break through a bunch of barriers to get a family to consider the schools. I think that this is for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that with the variety of concerns that a parent has about sending their 18 year old all the way to the US, and paying the enormous amount of money that it requires to do so, the words "Liberal" and "Arts" are probably the last thing that they want to hear in making this decision! Furthermore, while I had different problems all those years ago sitting in an all boy's boarding school in Mussoorie, India trying to decide where I would go to college, they are not that different that what families now have. My major problem was a lack of information (pre-internet and no one was traveling to India to recruit students, much less to the foothills of the Himalayas!), but parents and students these days have an over-abundance of information. And all of those websites look amazing! The front page that looks like a Bennington add, adorned with every possible nationality staring back at you like it is a multicultural paradise! Lack of info or too much info, we go to the familiar. However, since historically Indians only went to the US for graduate school, the familiar would rarely include Liberal Arts Colleges, given most of them are entirely undergraduate, or primarily undergraduates. So the familiar refrain from my students, "But no one back home will have heard of the school." I always tell them that they can always answer back to people that say that with the quip reply, "Yeah, they've never heard of you either." But seriously, I do understand that concern, and if you were planning your terminal degree to be an undergraduate degree, then by all means, this could be an issue if you were to try to get a job back in India. However, not many of my students plan to stop after undergraduate studies, and therein lies one of the greatest strengths of LACs. The other two articles I referred to talk about many great things about LACs and I have posted the links below and you should definitely read these!! But, I would also point out that one huge factor for choosing a Liberal Arts undergraduate education is that if you are going on to Grad school, this will be your best preparation. For those parents out there that went to the US for Grad school, just think back on your own experiences with professors in your school. How concerned were they about the undergrads? More likely than not, you handled many of the undergrads for them. Fact is, professors from large research universities are focussed more on their research. Grads and PhD students help them with this. Undergraduate teaching is not always the most important area for them. On the other hand in a smaller LAC, it is likely that the classes are less than 20 in a classroom, which not only means that you are going to be known by the professor, but also that there is a built in expectation that you are involved and prepared for the class. 

I am certainly not saying that LACs are for everyone, but I would certainly think about the investment in terms of the priority towards the undergrad, time and attention that you will get, and not about rankings and number of Nobel laureates that the school might have.

Here are the links to the other great articles on LAC's:

Romancing the Arts: http://gurcharandas.org/p/156

Parent from ParentEdge: http://networkedblogs.com/Fsn9v