Dr. Richard Detweiler, author of The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs
Rick is the author of a book described by Forbes as among “the best higher education books of 2021” — The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs: Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment (The MIT Press 2021).
Drawing on interviews with more than 1,000 college graduates aged 25 to 65, Rick presents empirical evidence for the value of a liberal arts education: it has a lasting impact on lifelong success, leadership, altruism, learning, and fulfillment. The implications of this research range from the advantages of broadening areas of study to factors that influence students’ decisions to attend certain colleges.
As an advisor and consultant, Rick works directly with institutions inside and outside the United States to bring expertise to university initiatives to enhance effectiveness and impact.
Questions Answered Today:
What do I need to know about liberal arts?
Most of the time, liberal arts is associated with studying something that doesn’t have practical value. But, looking at it in a deeper perspective, Rick explains that liberal arts help students achieve long-term success and a more fulfilled life. Liberal arts prepare students for an ever-changing world.
In general, liberal arts differ from other practical courses in two ways: content and authentic educational community.
- Liberal arts studies are usually non-vocational degrees. Having deep perspectives from history, philosophy, religion, sociology, and such widens a student’s thinking.
- Liberal arts studies usually focus on the development of the students’ intellectual skills.
Authentic Educational Community
- The student’s learning is not confined within the lecture room; it extends outside the classroom.
- Students actively engage with other students as well as with professors. They engage in one-on-one conversations, debates, and other forms of discussions to talk about big ideas.
How do I know that my student is fit to pursue liberal arts?
“If you care about long-term success, or leadership, or living a fulfilled life, or any one of a number of kinds of longer-term life outcomes; having an education in a place where faculty know individual students and spend time with them outside of class time, where students interact with each other in a real sense of community and exchange of thinking, etc.; that’s where the power really comes from.”– Rick Detweiler
It’s easy to see. If the student is only focused on what’s on the test and what’s not, and the ultimate goal is just to successfully land a job and make money, then they should probably go that route.
Students that are fit to be in liberal arts are those whose hearts are in mindful and deep conversations. They’re the ones that ask bigger questions and discuss big issues.
Is liberal arts a good path for undecided students?
Absolutely! It’s the perfect solution. If the student has too many things they’d like to do, going to a liberal arts institution may be the best route. Here are some of the reasons Rick shared:
- Liberal arts institutions require their students to study outside of their area of passion. This is because the liberal arts curriculum understands that the world is ever-changing, and learning as much as possible will be advantageous for students in the long run.
- Liberal arts institutions usually don’t require students to require a major as late as the junior year, allowing the student to buy time to really figure out what they want to pursue.
- For a student to be successful in their chosen specialized field of study, they must be an engaged, thinking, growing person. Liberal arts education promotes this kind of learning and is designed to offer ‘broader education’ to its students first, before delving into specializations.
The idea of liberal arts is that, while it is important to learn specializations and get proper training in college, understanding broader humanity issues is equally important. Thinking about such issues also leads to countless opportunities for students.
Rick’s reasons are based on thorough research that involved 1,000 college graduates from various colleges and universities. Rick concluded that the best predictor of success (i.e., earning more money and being in a high position) is taking courses (more than half) outside their area of specialization. Students who had seized more learning opportunities adapted better in their workplaces—the very idea of liberal arts.
Do liberal arts-based institutions only offer liberal arts studies?
No! There are liberal-arts-based institutions that offer bachelor of science degrees and degrees in engineering.
What would taking Engineering in a liberal-arts-based institution versus taking Engineering in a big university look like?
In a big university, the student ends up taking engineering courses required to finish the degree.
A liberal-arts-based institution generally requires the student to take other studies (usually a couple of years) before they can take specialized engineering courses. Many liberal-arts-based colleges would have what they call the “3-2 Program” where the student would spend 3 years in the liberal arts college to study other disciplines and then automatically transfer to an engineering school to take specialized courses for 2 years.
Liberal-arts-based colleges strategically combine non-professional, broader courses and professional, specialized courses to create a perfect balance. This way, students also have the freedom and opportunity to balance and manage the area of studies they’re interested in outside of their specialization. This is something big universities might fail to offer. Look at this scenario based on Rick’s nephew’s situation:
The student wanted to take engineering but is interested in psychology at the same time. The student decided to go to a big university that offers engineering and psychology programs. However, having gotten into that big university, the student realized that taking engineering and psychology courses would be impossible as both have too many requirements.
Had the student gotten into a liberal-arts-based institution, he wouldn’t have been as restricted.
What’s the role of parents in making sure that the student is equipped in an ever-changing, competitive world?
Here’s the thing about colleges—they’re either a liberal arts college, or they’re not.
If parents think that their student is fit to pursue a liberal arts degree, then the best thing to do is to find smaller liberal-arts-based institutions. In a smaller institution, there will be lots of opportunities for the student to engage in meaningful conversations with other students and their professors. Professors usually know their students by name, and they’re actively engaged in their students’ thinking process.
Rick notes that, while big schools probably also have opportunities for students to be engaged with others while learning, the chances of this happening in smaller institutions are higher compared to big schools.
It’s also the parents’ role to do their research while looking for colleges. The information about colleges is not limited to what’s available on the college guide or the U.S. News ranking. When shopping around, parents should apply the same scrutiny they do when shopping around for houses and cars. In terms of the quality, the most important question to ask is: “Is this a place that really will compellingly involve my child in the whole educational experience outside as well as inside the classroom?”
Parents should also start maximizing what they pay for by taking advantage of the services (tutoring, counseling, resume writing, career services, etc.) offered by the school. As colleges become more and more expensive, they are also adding more and more services for students. These services are meant for students to prepare for their life ahead.
Another tip Rick shared is for parents to encourage their students to initiate meaningful conversations with their professors outside of the class. This doesn’t only become advantageous for the student because of the added insights. It also helps the professor understand the student better.
Links and Resources
Helpful Articles and Resources
- Taming The High Cost Of College
- The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs: Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment
- Rick Detweiler’s Contact Info:
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Brad Baldridge 0:00
Is a liberal arts degree worth it? Learn that and more with Richard Detweiler.
You have kids, they grow up, and before you know it, it's time to plan for college. Where do you start? How much is it going to cost? Will you qualify for financial aid? Should you be looking into scholarships? When will you be able to retire? What about student loans? A list of questions is never-ending. The good news is all the answers are right here. Welcome to the Taming the High Cost of College podcast. Here is your host certified financial planner, Brad Baldridge.
Brad Baldridge 0:35
Hello and welcome to Taming the High Cost of College. I'm your host Brad Baldridge. Today, we have a great interview with Richard Detweiler. He wrote the book The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs. And in this book, he argues that liberal arts is in fact, a quality education. And I think I agree with him, I certainly, for some students, liberal arts is the way to go. Of course, liberal arts, we see it in the comment sections of underwater basket weaving as a major that family should avoid, and you should go into something that leads you directly to a job, not philosophy, not history, take engineering, or take nursing where you get trained for a job. I think that's a legitimate argument for some students, where they, in fact, do need training for a quality job. But I think many other students, especially the go getters out there, the ones that are going to do well no matter what they study, might actually benefit from studying something a little more broadly. And then figuring out how that broad education can benefit the world. Whether that's working with a company or start founding a business or coming up with a new idea. I think there's a great benefit where you learn lots of different things. And occasionally, you might apply something you learned in one area and use it somewhere else. Steve Jobs talked about his calligraphy class being something where he learned the aesthetics and he used it a lot when he was reviewing Apple products and trying to figure out how do we make this look good for the potential purchaser? Alright, so again, my philosophy, I think liberal arts is a good fit for some and not others. And of course, listen to this interview. And we'll get into a lot of the great details around what liberal arts is and isn't and how it works. And if you have a student thinking about liberal arts, I think this is a great interview that you should be listening to. As always, show notes are available at our website, just look up this episode, Episode 156. Let's go ahead and jump into the interview.
Today I'm having a conversation with Rick Detweiler. He is the author of The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs. Welcome, Rick.
Rick Detweiler 2:45
Thank you. It's good to be with you, Brad.
Brad Baldridge 2:47
All right. So the you wrote a book, obviously about liberal arts and you really want to dive into it and so forth. But can you tell us a little bit about your background and kind of what led up to the idea that you're going to write a book about this topic?
Rick Detweiler 3:00
Well, I grew up in Southern California, actually, my dad, a college graduate, my mom, not. When I was selecting colleges, I was most interested in going to a place that seemed like an interesting place to be. So I chose a campus on the ocean because I thought that was pretty neat. What I didn't know or understand is, I was in fact, choosing a liberal arts college. And that didn't mean anything to me at the time. And in fact, it wasn't until probably many years later that I really began to recognize that my wife and I went in the Peace Corps together, lived on a tiny little island in the Pacific. And with no electricity, no cars, no, not much of anything that we think of as a part of contemporary life. But that gave me also a chance to reflect on what I thought I might want to do with my life. And that led me to graduate school in social psychology, went to Princeton, and then thinking about what I wanted to do with that degree considered going back into the Peace Corps to run, be a country director and had that on my plate. But our firstborn child was due about the time I needed to be there, and I knew was a place with no health care. So rather, at the last minute, I ended up going to work at a what turned out to be a liberal arts college. And my focus at that time was on my scholarship. But as I worked there and worked with my faculty colleagues began to see the excitement they have and ultimately the excitement I had about engaging students in thinking about not only the subject that they were studying, but about their life ahead. And that led me into proposing lots of innovations at that university, somebody needed to run those innovative new programs. And so I ended up becoming a college administrator, vice president, ultimately president of another college and then the president of the Association of Liberal Arts Colleges in the Midwest. So I, with the accident of choosing a liberal arts college at the beginning, that having a very specialized degree, graduate degree, and then going into the work environment, spent my life then working in environments that really cared about students and their growth and development. And as I got far along, and all that began to say, 'Well, you know, we all talk about liberal arts education. But it's really confusing about what liberal arts means. And does it really make a difference? Or is that really a good choice?' So that led into the work that's reported in, in my book on The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs. So that's a that's a quick thumbnail.
Brad Baldridge 5:28
Right? And if you think it's confusing for those of you in the industry, imagine what it's like for the, again, the families looking in that are saying, maybe this is the first time I'm sending a child off to college, or maybe the parents have a degree of some sort, maybe they don't. And then of course, many parents have preconceived notions, and so forth, and so on. So I guess let's start there. So what are we talking about liberal arts? In the book, you mentioned, there's a couple of different aspects to it. One is curriculum. One is teaching style. So can you kind of expand our knowledge on what liberal arts is all about?
Rick Detweiler 6:06
Yes, and you're absolutely right, that liberal arts is talked about in very confused and inconsistent ways, both in higher education, and certainly, more broadly, in the public, and legislators and all of those kinds of things. People tend to think that liberal arts means studying things that have no practical value. So, you know, philosophy, maybe religion, or history, or those kinds of subjects and, and that's really what it's all about. And that's actually not what liberal arts is about, that orientation comes from the understanding that some have that it comes from, originally from ancient Greece and developed over the years. But when I began to look at that history myself, and understand what was really going on with liberal arts education that makes it different, it became clear that there are two aspects of what it means to have a liberal arts education. One part of it is what you study, and that tends to be non-vocational degrees, and a broader span of study and the development of intellectual skills. So that's the content side. But as important and in fact, it turned out to be even more important is that it happens in the words that I talked about in the book and authentic educational community. What's that mean? That means that faculty, no students, not just in a classroom, but outside the classroom. They know students by their first name, they actively engage with students in their thinking not as part of a big lecture where everybody gets some information dumped into their brain. But that students' development of the students' thinking is really critically important. And that students have good relationships with other students, and they exchange their thinking and debate and those kinds of things. So it's that context of a real educational community that involves people inside and outside the classroom, combined with a content of study that tends to be broader and engaging in one's thinking. So those are the two aspects that turned out to be characteristic of liberal arts education, as it developed and evolved over literally millennia. And as it is embedded as it has been implemented in the, in the US since the early 1800s in fact.
Brad Baldridge 8:22
Right. So as a parent, my antenna went up a little bit around, not only is it taking a breadth of knowledge, but it's also the in the classroom and outside of the classroom. So I think that is important to understand that. How do we know if a college delivers that other half, which is the outside the classroom? Yes, piece of it, where it's not just sitting in a lecture, you know, so obviously, the content of a broad education could be memorize this and regurgitate it to me, or it could be of much deeper knowledge and understanding and application and all that kind of stuff.
Rick Detweiler 9:03
Yes, and you put your finger on what it turns out, has really long-term impact. And then that is, you know, you can you can get facts anywhere, you can get it today, on the internet, you don't need to go to college. So the facts, you can find all kinds of places. The question is, where do you really get the added value that has an impact on one's life. And that turns out to be the opportunity to engage one's thinking and ideas about subjects and life more broadly, and big issues facing humanity and all of those kinds of things outside of the classroom. So it's that educational context. That's nowhere to be found in US News rankings. It just it doesn't give you that insight. There are some college guides that try to give you a bit of that, but most do not. And so what I'd say is that it requires digging a little deeper than that. The marketing kinds of information that colleges and universities typically provide, and asking questions of students on that campus of faculty on that campus really asking questions about the nature of that hold that broader educational experience, because that's where life impact really comes from.
Brad Baldridge 10:16
Right? I mean, so some of the stuff you're describing reminds me of going to date myself, the old movie Dead Poets Society.
Rick Detweiler 10:24
Brad Baldridge 10:24
You know, where a bunch of young people and Robin Williams, I don't remember the name of his character, but, you know, do stuff together. And in the end, they have this a lightning educational experience, which leads... If that's what you're going to get out of college, it seems pretty obvious. Like that seems like a pretty good route to take for, especially for the right kids, right, the ones that like to think deeply and like to get involved in all that stuff. That seems like a great path.
Rick Detweiler 10:53
Yeah. So let me if you don't mind my interrupting there, Brad, because this is not an education just for people who like to think deeply. So if you think about the life that's going to be ahead of a 18-year-old today, and their lifetime ahead, it's going to be a lifetime of constant change and constant learning. They know there's, the belief now is people will change their jobs, what maybe 10 or 12 times over their career, and the people who are successful, and again, I have data that supports this idea, are the people who are, who learn while in college, if they haven't already been there, to begin thinking a bit more deeply to be asking good questions, to be excited about learning new things that maybe are completely outside their area of interest or expertise. So it doesn't mean that they shouldn't pursue something that they like. But they also should, should be become excited about thinking and learning more broadly, because that's what's going to pay off over their lifetime, you know, jobs that are going to be the important ones, a decade or two from now, probably don't even exist today. So how do you prepare for that? Well, you learn to think and you learn to exchange ideas, and be engaged with both educated professors, but your peers who are learning along the way with you. So I would say it's not just for that inquiry, those people that go to college with that inquiry in mind, but that it's a talent that every person who wants to be successful in their lifetime needs to develop.
Brad Baldridge 12:20
Right. And I would agree that it's, again, a skill that is valuable and should be developed. But are there the kids out there that just aren't ready for it, perhaps? I picture the kids in the class and raising their hand all the time and saying, 'Is this going to be on the test?' Like, no, this is a general discussion and this discussion is going to take us wherever we take us. So no, this can't be on the test. Because we don't even know what we're talking about till the class is over. That disconnect of just tell me what I need to know. So I can know it. And I can be done here and go off and get a good career.
Rick Detweiler 12:54
Yeah. And so I would say two things about that. One is, if all you care about is that very first job and maximizing your income, than that's exactly the way to approach it. But in the in the spirit of liberal arts, conversations are not just directionless or mindless, it's the professor having the opportunity and interest in engaging that individual student. And so in class time, that it may be far more structured, but that there is out of class time conversation as well, in which this professor really is understanding the student and where they're coming from. And if they are approaching college, and exactly the way you describe, well, the liberal arts-based institution, that professor gets to know individual students, and is going to engage their thinking in ways that connect their thinking in their life aspirations, whatever they happen to be with bigger, bigger questions and bigger issues and help to make them intrigued with the process of, of learning and change and, and thinking in that will pay off over their lifetime.
Brad Baldridge 14:01
Right, absolutely. So another point of your book was, I think we touched on it already a little bit. But the, again, liberal arts being a teaching style, a curriculum, I mean, more embroidered than either you're a liberal arts college, or you're not, kind of, bucket A or bucket A kind of thing.
Rick Detweiler 14:22
Brad Baldridge 14:23
And all this stuff is on a continuum. So again, we've kind of talked about what's a good fit for a particular student and that type of thing. Do you think there's colleges out there that, and again, the stories we see on TV or in movies, that kind of that Aha! moment where somebody gave me the time and the effort and kind of took me from the close-minded ideas that I had and and expanded my knowledge and all that type of thing? I mean, do you feel like that that's a mission statement of particular colleges, or is that you know? Again, as a parent thinking about it, if you have the kid that, man, they just need to go out and experience the world. And they can't, they don't want they want to be when they grow up. I see this a lot too, right, is they love everything, or they hate everything, right? It's like, I hate math. I hate science. I hate school, I hate everything. What do you want to do when you grow up? I don't know. Or the other end of it is, I love music. Math is fun, but I like philosophy. And I like, I can't pick a major because now you're gonna say I have to do this, then that means I can't do that. And I don't want to pick one and then say no to all the rest, because that's what's in their mind right?
Rick Detweiler 15:37
Brad Baldridge 15:37
If I pick a couple of these, then the other ones are off the list, and then I don't get to do them. So we have those two different undecided, is the liberal arts a good solution for those problems are a bad solution for those problems?
Rick Detweiler 15:51
And I would actually say it's the best solution for those problems. At a liberal arts-based institution, there will be the insistence that a student do some degree of studying outside of their area of passion, their major area. And that span of study mean that the best predictor of success over the long term, over one's career in my research, based on 1000 college graduates of all kinds of colleges and universities, the best single predictor of success, earning more money, and being in a higher position is taking more than half your courses outside of your major. So that pays off for the reasons we've already talked about. It's a changing world. And those people who have been introduced to lots of ways of thinking about life and knowledge are the ones who tend to do better over the long term. For the student who's really focused on a particular is unfocused in, a liberal arts institution will typically not require a declaration of a major until as late as the junior year. And so the student has an opportunity to explore broader areas of knowledge and find something that intrigues them enough that they really want to study it in greater depth. And so there is both the breadth of study and the focused areas of study. One of the dilemmas with specialized training, if you go to an engineering school, then they end up, oftentimes, having so many requirements within engineering, that there really is little opportunity to study outside that very focused, professional area of study. And so one of the fundamental assumptions or beliefs of those who believe in liberal arts education, and by the way, since the early 1800s, all of American higher education has been based on this idea is that specialized training should happen as your second post high school degree. So first, you should become this more engaged, thinking, growing person that prepares you for a life of and careers of change. And if there's something that you really want to specialize in, then go to graduate school in engineering, or medicine, or chemistry or whatever that more specialized thing is, but that should happen after one has a broader education to begin with.
Brad Baldridge 18:14
Right? So again, as a parent looking at college, there's that, you know, the obvious, quote, unquote, liberal arts colleges that declare themselves as such, I think there's a lot now of colleges that might be a little more technical in nature that have realized that double majors are across professions or public private partnerships, and all these ways to kind of expand beyond just, again, the the, these are the facts, memorize them all. And now you get to graduate. realizing, you know, in your book, you mentioned that there's a survey out there, oh, these are what employers are looking for. And liberal arts tend to deliver it. I mean, I would argue that people on the other side of the aisle are also working hard to deliver it, or at least the ones that are aware of it, you know, and again, I think maybe there's also some institutions that have said, 'This is the way we've always done it, this is the way we're always going to do it, and we're never changing. And we're going to resist any sort of idea along those lines.' And I think to their detriment, in my opinion, but anyway, and then I think there's some engineering schools that might say, 'Hey, let's not get too focused on any particular thing.' And I think engineering itself is broad enough, right? Because you can't possibly learn what you're gonna do in your job and say mechanical engineering or electrical engineering because you don't know if you're gonna work in batteries or cars or so you're not getting, you're getting the broad, almost a liberal technical education. I don't know how you would say that. But how is that different than the liberal, you know, again, you go to engineering school, you learn all about physics and math and stuff that's relevant to how the world works of how the physical world works, let's say. So that's kind of abroad, then then you're gonna go to work for Ford and learn suspensions, or you're gonna go to work for NASA and learn rockets, or you're going to go sell MRI machines for GE and completely different knowledge base, all that kind of stuff, you probably didn't learn anything in school that's relevant to MRI machines or rockets. At least that endless, except the very highest, basic level of this is how they work kind of, how is that any different are the same then a true liberal arts? And again, the reason I'm bringing this up is there's a whole bunch of engineers that are listening, that are saying, they didn't experience a lot of arts education, as labeled anyway, they didn't go to the liberal arts college, although I guess they're talking about that next. But I think there are some liberal arts colleges that do offer engineering.
Rick Detweiler 20:46
Brad Baldridge 20:47
So we'll get into the whole those differences in a minute. But I guess back to the original question around, you know, engineering is kind of broad. It doesn't really train you for a job either. Right? How is that the same or different than a liberal arts degree per se?
Rick Detweiler 21:03
Well, your point is exactly right. But if one is going to be prepared for this world of change, and one is only thinking about that within a pretty narrow domain, that is how it does, and by the way, my dad was an engineer, so mechanical engineer, and then became a hydraulic engineer over his career. But that training then is within a very limited context. And, to what degree is that also having you understand the broader issues facing humanity and the implications of what one is doing for the challenges and opportunities we face as humans. So that the idea of a liberal arts education is not to be anti engineering by any means. But to say, as one is educated in a specialization, one also needs to be thinking about broader issues, and opportunities that are just outside one's area of specialization. So having perspectives from history, and from philosophy and from religion, and from sociology, etc. that widens one's one's thinking. Steve Jobs, who did not himself actually graduate from college, he credits a course he took at a liberal arts college with what became Apple Computer and the Macintosh. And it was a course in calligraphy. And he learned about, you know, drawing things in artistic shape. And that he said, created a perspective on what was a technical life that he lived. But who would have thought that a person who ends up doing computer engineering, as he did, would, should be taking a course in calligraphy, nobody would think of that. But that fundamentally changed the way he approached the whole technical issue that became his life. Similarly, you know, Bill Gates talks about his partnership with a liberally educated person who brought broader perspectives into what became Microsoft, it's why surveys of employers that you mentioned earlier on, they look for this broader problem solving, inquiring flexibility, looking at things from outside the perspectives of one's job, ability to communicate and work well with other people. Those are things that actually don't just take a particular field of work and kind of make it mechanically go forward and slightly improve it, but which bring the kinds of change an opportunity that make a difference, both professionally and for society.
Brad Baldridge 23:41
Right. So I guess before I forget, let's go back to the some liberal arts colleges offer an engineering degree. So how do we rectify that? I mean, now we're saying essentially, that somebody in this campus doing somebody the other the other camps work, I mean...
Rick Detweiler 23:58
Yeah, so if you go just to an engineering school, so you're going to a big university, enrolling in the engineering program, and you're taking engineering courses, that's one thing, there are also a few universities, but generally smaller institutions, that are liberal arts and bases, and where you also can get that bachelor of science and engineering. Generally speaking, those institutions require a couple of years of study more broadly, in addition to the two or three years of study in engineering. So they match them or make them together into a degree rather than having a student from this time they arrived study those specialized courses. Many smaller liberal arts institutions have what they call '3-2 programs.' So you spend three years at the liberal arts college and have automatic transfer with into a engineering school where you then do the two years of specialization, having taken the math and those things that are required in engineering as part of your liberal arts education, but then the specialization comes later. So that's a difference. I have my nephew, was interested in and he's in an engineering school now, he was interested in combining engineering and psychology. And he thought, gee, the best place for me to do that is I'll go to a big university, where they have both an engineering program and a psychology program. Having gotten there, he's found that he, the engineering requirements in the engineering school means he can't take any psychology or he can take a course, but that's really it, because they have so many requirements within psychology, had he gone to a probably smaller liberal arts-oriented school, he would have been able to combine those because they tried to keep a balance between those broader non-professional type of courses and the professional courses.
Brad Baldridge 25:50
Right. So I think there's also this kind of this juxtaposition of the, the narrow specialists that knows a subject really deep. You know, before we start hit record, I said there's the hand surgeon that knows everything and that's his thing. And that, you know, he's the guy you want, if you're getting surgery on your hand, you don't want a general surgeon? He knows, that's all he does every day. Theoretically, he should be the guy, right? And then there's the general doctor, whose job it is to say, 'You know, I see some correlations that, maybe this what's going on has something to do with your hand, maybe you need surgery.' So there's kind of those analogies like that, in today's world? Is it wrong or right? Or how do you know, if it's, I guess my opinion in the mastermind question, I think it's wrong and right per individual, not 'everybody should do this, or everybody should do that.' I think it's based on where you want to go in life. But if you wanted to be the hand specialist, or the general doctor, or if you wanted to be, again, deepened engineering and know all there is to know about electric cars, or how do parents deal with that? You know, again, a typical scenario, where I see a lot of struggle is when mom and dad are technically trained, you know, their nurses, or doctors or engineers, and their kids are undecided and saying, 'I just want to go and take this and that and this.' And dad's first response is, $100,000, and what are you gonna do with it? I'm the student rightfully says, I don't know. Hey, that doesn't sit well with dad. So we're at a logjam. What's your opinion? They're like, dad, get over it, or dad ask these questions. And these are the questions. And if you get a lot of yeses to these kinds of questions, then back off, and it's probably, you know, it'll be fine. Or ask these questions. If you get and you get a lot of nose, well, then you're probably right, your baby should steer them away from liberal arts. Is there a...
Rick Detweiler 28:01
So yeah, so let me, you know, there's not a test. But there, I mean, and I do not disagree that there are some people for whom that kind of specialization is what they ought to do. And that's where their passion is. And that's a good thing. And by the way, that could be a plumber or a mechanic as well as being a hand surgeon, right. And if that's where the passion is, that's wonderful in our world needs all kinds of people. But let me back up one step to say that there's a fundamental difference between education as it is offered in Europe, and higher education as it is offered in the United States. And what's interesting is that, globally, the United States approach is believed to be superior, that the outcomes from American higher education are actually far better than the European approach. And European education, when you go to go to what we call college, or university, you enter to be specialized. So you study medicine, or dentistry, or engineering, or whatever it is. And you just enter and you're doing that specialization from the beginning. In the early 1800s. In the US, when this was going on in Europe, which was new, it used to always be liberal arts education in Europe. And then the advanced degree was the specialized degree. In the early 1800s, faculty at Yale, actually asked the question, should we do it like the Europeans are now beginning to do it? And it turned out Europeans went that way strongly? Or should we see the first college degree, the bachelor's degree, as the kind of education we need in our society in order for the individual and society be to be successful with specialization happening afterward? And they concluded that the individual and American society are better off by having everybody have that broader liberal arts based education first, and then specialization would occur. So how do you become a physician? You get a BA degree, and then you go to medical school at which you specialize and then you may specialize more than that even through a residency. And it's that process that leads to, to a person to becoming a physician. And in fact, undergraduate pre medicine pre med is not a major, it's just assuring that a student, regardless of whatever major they take, has enough of the biology and chemistry and, and physics and those kinds of things that will prepare them for med school. And when you look at medical school enrollments, in fact, the highest percentage admission rates tend to be for non science majors, medical schools who see a philosophy major or a history major, who's also taken the biology and so forth. Those are tend to have a higher admission rate than the person who's just majors in biology, because they know that having physicians who are educated to think more broadly and creatively, actually ended up tending to be more successful not only in med school, that longer term. Similarly, now in the US, if you want to be a nurse, you can get an undergraduate nursing degree. If it happens at a liberal arts-based institution, then they're going to require substantial study outside of the discipline. But you can also get a just a bachelor's degree at an American institution and get a master's in nursing which generally you actually enter at a higher level in the nursing profession than if you have a bachelor's degree. So the notion is, this broader span of study actually better prepares one for whatever one specialization. And that's that has been for a long time the American approach to education, that approach has been eroding in the US with the growth of specialization requiring more courses in a major or in a profession. And I think that's not been good either for the long term success of individuals or for society. But I also want to go back to the beginning of our conversation to say, as important or more important than the specific thing as student studies, if you care about long term success, or leadership, or living a fulfilled life, or any one of a number of kinds of longer term life outcomes, having an education in an in a place where faculty know individual students and spend time with them outside of class time, where students interact with each other in a real sense of community and exchange of thinking, etc, that's where the power really comes from.
Brad Baldridge 28:01
Rick Detweiler 28:32
And that's just more than twice as likely to happen if a student attends a smaller institution than if one attends a larger institution. That's just, it's not that it can't happen at a larger place, but it's much less likely to happen a larger place, students gonna have to work really hard to get that professor to pay attention to them outside of class, time, if that professor is at an institution with 15 or 20,000 or more students. If the institution has 2000 or 5000, it's far more likely to happen.
Brad Baldridge 32:55
Right? I think, a couple of thoughts there one is, and it's also more likely to happen if you ask the right questions while you're shopping around for colleges to figure out
Rick Detweiler 33:05
Brad Baldridge 33:05
Does this type of thing exist? And it's also much more likely to happen if your student intentionally seeks it out no matter where they are?
Rick Detweiler 33:14
Yes, that's absolutely right. And that's where the college guides, most of them don't give you much insight. And so if the list of colleges a student is interested in in mom and dad are looking at, it's down to a half a dozen or so, then it's possible to do some follow up inquiry, which we do with all kinds of things you don't go, well, some people buy a house sight unseen, most people want to go look at it, seeing the neighborhood and develop a better sense of what really goes on there before they decide to invest in a house, they should be likewise doing similar things before they decide to invest in a in a college education. And on that list of concerns should be does that is this a place that really will compellingly involve my child in the whole educational experience outside of the class as well as inside the class?
Brad Baldridge 34:02
Right. Now, and I think there's another, I think some of the stuff that we do with the whole liberal arts idea, it's not, it doesn't have to be solely the college's responsibility. I mean, parents in general can themselves read widely with their kids when they're seven. And then all of a sudden, when the kids are 15, they read widely on their own accord, because that's what they figured that's how it's done. They don't know any better. And then from there, they can continue to have lots of interests and they can go off to college and study engineering, and play music on the side and read philosophy on the side and go to debate club on the side and do all this stuff and essentially get to the same place. So I think there's a big challenge around that where the whole discussion around highly educated parents have children that have this leg up whether it's, again, is it unfair? Yes. But it's a puzzling fact that because parents understand, they tend to do these types of things more often right is, you know, I have an engineering background all the time I'm talking about my kids. Well, how do you know that's not magic? That that thing moves by its own? What do you think? Why do you think that moves? And they have to think about it a little bit. And you know, and then when it stops working, I let them tear it apart and see what's wrong with it. And then usually, it's done because they're not getting it back together. But it was broken anyway. So who cares? But what do you think are some liberal arts parenting on purpose, things that you might do?
Rick Detweiler 35:38
Yeah, well, I'll respond to that question. But just let me before I talked about that, just say that in this same research, even those young people who came out of families, low income families, where it's less likely those kinds of experiences you just talked about will have happened, those young people were two to three times more impacted by having a college experience in this educational community than were those who entered it better, better prepared for it. So it's not too late. If you haven't been doing that with your kids, then that's particularly important to get them into this kind of educational experience, because the impact is even greater.
Brad Baldridge 36:20
And the correlation to that is, and if you've been doing a good job of it as a parent, you can rest easier if you don't choose liberal arts, because again, your student might do the liberal ideas on their own, they may seek out professors, and quote unquote, argue with them, because they think it's fun. They think that's the way it's done. Right? They've seen that's right society, they've argued with you all day long about various philosophical things. And they'll just continue and they'll do it for fun, or they'll do it. Because, whereas you again, as you mentioned, getting somebody that Aha! moment, so to speak, getting them out there where someone does challenge them.
Rick Detweiler 37:01
Brad Baldridge 37:01
I think there's some parents out there that don't realize that, you know, this whole concept of think about it and do it intentionally instead of by accident, right?
Rick Detweiler 37:09
Yes. And we have three children, one attended a prestigious research university, the other two attended liberal arts colleges. The one piece of advice we gave to the one who went to the research university was some class you take, if you find the class interesting, then write down a question from the lecture because lectures are big, it tends not, you tend not to have much give and take with the professor. And that professor probably has at least one office hour at a week, walk in that professor's office and ask a question or read something that they wrote, they published and go in and ask a question. And so she developed that liberal arts experience, because she was willing to take that initiative, the two that went to liberal arts based institutions, it happened automatically, they didn't need to be encouraged to take that kind of step they, it's hard to avoid it when you're at a smaller liberal arts-based institution, you have to work at it, if you go to a bigger, not bigger research-rated institution. And as you've said, parents can kind of work on that throughout a lifetime. And if that's something they still have the opportunity to do, because your kids aren't old enough to be rejecting their conversation, then yeah, it's asking questions of why. And what do you think if our society does this, or if science discovers that, what's going to happen to, to the way we live? So ask those kinds of probing questions, as you say, if something, you have a mechanical thing, we'll take it apart and figure out how it works. And let's talk about it. So any of those kinds of things that link areas of knowledge and understanding, because that's where that's what the future is all about. It's not chemistry, it's biochemistry, or it's linking areas of knowledge and understanding that that really makes a difference,
Brad Baldridge 39:00
Right? And I want to step back down, you know, the story that your daughter just to kind of drive the point home where you said, your daughter, you know, went and asked questions. It's likely then that that professor needed an undergrad to do some project or something. And who did they pick? They picked your daughter, and every other student in that class is saying, 'She's lucky that the professor picked her.' And it's like, well, you could look at it, no, not, there was no luck involved there. I mean
Rick Detweiler 39:30
That's absolutely right
Brad Baldridge 39:31
Made it her on luck, in that. She engaged and she went above and beyond. And
Rick Detweiler 39:36
that's right. And the professor responded to that. There was no question.
Brad Baldridge 39:40
Right, exactly. And I get I don't know what happened with that. I didn't know that she was picked for anything in particular. But that's the kind of stuff that happens all the time. Were talking with your students and just asking them are they taking advantage? You know, one of the things that colleges are getting more expensive, but they're also offering a whole lot more services and a whole lot more benefits. And there's tutoring and counseling and all kinds of stuff. And it's like, are you taking advantage of all that stuff you're paying for? Unfortunately, you're forced to pay for it. So you may as well at least take advantage of it. And I think certainly most students don't have no idea of all the services and most parents probably don't either. And it's so ubiquitous now that it's almost not a differentiation point. Because we they all have career services, and they all have resume writing, and they all have, some might do it better than others. So it might be a slight differentiation from one school to the next. But just asking those questions that realize how much there is, and again, taking advantage of all that is the bigger picture thing again.
Rick Detweiler 40:39
Yes, and I think it's really important for parents to understand that. Don't think about those opportunities as service or services as deficits, think about opportunities to better prepare one for life ahead, which is going to be changed and unpredictable and requiring all kinds of things. So the idea of talking to professor outside of class time, is not to just become more expert in that knowledge area, but to have a professor who's understanding the student, and what they're thinking about, what matters in their lives, because that kind of engagement, so is not just to get a better grade, that kind of engagement is to begin thinking in ways that begin to link what one is thinking about and doing with life ahead. And, and so, as you say, many of the kinds of services that are now offered on college campuses, take advantage of them. But keep in mind that what really matters is that the student is engaged in that educational experience with other students, and with their professors, and with mentors wherever they can find them.
Brad Baldridge 41:47
Rick Detweiler 41:47
That pays off over one's lifetime.
Brad Baldridge 41:49
Right. And to put another finer point on it is, you know, the faculty and staff and etc, at a typical college,they're there to be helpful, but they're human too. And they tend to gravitate, if they've got a little bit of time, and they're going to help somebody and they have somebody that's asking for help, kind of almost by default, that's the person that's gonna get the time and attention because they're there. They're asking, it's not like they have to ignore other, you know, it's, again, limited resources, limited ability to do what they need to do just that's the world, right? I mean, as parents, we're crazy busy, we have to make decisions about where we spend our time and money.
Rick Detweiler 42:27
Brad Baldridge 42:28
It's great what's going on on the campuses all the time, we're down in the high schools, your school counselor, that's going to help your student pick a college, they're not intentionally ignoring you. But maybe their office has got a line of people waiting for help. And they're like next, next next, and if your kids not in the line...
Rick Detweiler 42:47
They're not going to get that help. That's right.
Brad Baldridge 42:49
They're not going to say, 'Well, wait a minute, I haven't seen a little Suzy in a while. She's not in the line.'
Rick Detweiler 42:54
Brad Baldridge 42:55
A lot of times they don't have time to chase kids that don't, aren't asking for help, because they're too busy delivering to the people that are asking.
Rick Detweiler 43:02
That's right. And I would also say, just thinking about scale of an institution. I mean, as as president of a smaller liberal arts college, students would come and see me, and I always made time for them. You know, if I was at a big, it could have been about most anything. Some of them were about something they were unhappy with. Some of them just were interested in talking with somebody who was looking at the whole institution. And that was a part of the relationships that existed on that campus, a big and complicated institution, that probably you're not going to be able to walk into the president's office, but maybe you could walk into a dean's office and have that kind of conversation and those things each matter and contribute to the benefit that one gets from a college education.
Brad Baldridge 43:44
Absolutely. And a corollary to this, it was on a past podcast, but the younger you are, the more willing an adult is willing to help. So if you're a professional if you're a busy hand surgeon, and a kid in grade school or high school says 'Hey, can I shadow can I learn something from you? Can I buy you lunch?' They're much more likely to say yes than to the grad student, or the 40 year old that says, 'Hey, can I get it get an hour of your time?' I mean, they will give it freely to a young person that's expressing interest. And it's just the nature of the world. Right? I mean, think about, you know, again, most parents think that way, say, 'Yeah, that's probably true,' right? It's like, somebody called me at work and said, 'You know, I'm in high school. I'm thinking about majoring in accounting. I know you do accounting work, can I come shadow you for a day or have lunch with you?'
Rick Detweiler 44:29
Brad Baldridge 44:30
It's so unusual. You'd probably say yes, just to check out the experience.
Rick Detweiler 44:35
Brad Baldridge 44:36
If a 40 year old says I've been in accounting profession for 20 years, can I pick your brain? No. Right? If it's just, it's just not the same.
Rick Detweiler 44:46
Not the same. Absolutely right.
Brad Baldridge 44:47
So I find that interesting. But anyway, I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate you've done the hard work here so that the rest of us don't have to and then wrote it all down. So if people are interested in your book, can you just tell us the title again and wherever we can find it and any other way that people can get a hold of you if they'd like?
Rick Detweiler 45:05
Sure, the book is The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs. And the reason it's titled that is, it's the first objective research on long term life outcomes of people who graduate not just from liberal arts institutions, but all kinds of places, and looking at long term life outcomes success, living with fulfillment, leadership, civic involvement, and all of those kinds of things. And well, not every chapter is designed for parents that can be read, as the introduction says selectively, and includes their ideas about how to think about selections of colleges that get beyond the normal kind of prestige, or focus on 'Oh, make sure the student gets, it gets that first job,' because indeed, anybody with a college degree will tend to be more successful. And if they've had the liberal arts kinds of experiences, they will be even more successful and live more fulfilled lives. It's available wherever books are sold, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore, wherever you happen to buy your books, published by MIT Press, which I thought was fascinating that MIT Press with its reputation for being a technical institution was the one that was interested in publishing this particular book. And so I encourage you to think not just about colleges as a destination, in fact, they are not a destination, they're a bridge to the future. And it's not a short list of institutions that students should be considering or, or if they're feeling disappointment about where they've been admitted to or denied or waitlisted. Or there's feelings of pressure that you should only apply to prestigious places, set those aside and really think about the goals that matter for your child's life ahead, and where they might best find that and that's the kind of information that's in this book.
Brad Baldridge 46:47
All right. Well, thank you very much. We'll stay in touch.
Rick Detweiler 46:50
Good. Thank you, Brad. Good day to you.
Brad Baldridge 46:53
All right, that was a great interview. If you want more, of course, you can go and get Richard's book, again it's The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs, it's available wherever books are sold, of course. That's all we have for today. We'll see you again next week.
Thank you for listening to the Taming the High Cost of College podcast. Now it's time for you to take action. Head to tamingthehighcostofcollege.com for show notes, bonus content and to leave feedback for Brad. The next step on your college journey starts now. Brad Baldridge is a registered representative of Cambridge investment research and an investment advisor representative of Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Securities are offered through Cambridge Investment Research Incorporated, a broker dealer and member of FINRA and SIPC. Brad owns two companies, Baldridge Wealth Management and Baldridge College Solutions. The Baldrige companies are not affiliated with Cambridge Investment Research.
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