The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) today announced a multi-pronged initiative to promote the liberal arts and the effectiveness of independent higher education, to increase the likelihood that the next generation of Americans will be prepared for the top-priority jobs in the United States and for leadership in a democratic society. As the major national service organization for these uniquely American independent, liberal arts colleges, CIC is well positioned to direct renewed attention to the compelling evidence that smaller independent colleges produce graduates who are among the best prepared for success in their personal, career, and community lives.
In announcing the initiative, CIC President Richard Ekman said, “CIC’s campaign to strengthen and support independent higher education will include research and data that dispel persistent and false stereotypes about independent colleges, feature prominent graduates of independent colleges and universities in all walks of life, and develop new language to describe the advantages of a liberal arts education, especially at independent institutions.”
The campaign will evolve over the next several months, and CIC has taken the important first step of appointing S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College and chair of the CIC Board of Directors, as CIC Senior Fellow to lead the campaign. As president for the past decade of one of the nation’s leading independent liberal arts colleges and a staunch advocate of the importance of the liberal arts to individuals and to society, Nugent is especially well qualified to lead this new initiative. Nugent led Kenyon to become one of the most selective colleges in the Midwest, attracting more diverse and international students. She also chairs the board of Higher Education Resource Services and has served on the board of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
In discussing the campaign, Nugent said, “I am passionate about the value of the liberal arts, and I believe it is critical that we find more effective ways of articulating that value to the public. In my decade at Kenyon, I have seen over and over the power of an outstanding liberal arts education. Yet, our public discourse about higher education shows little understanding of this value. I look forward to applying my experience as a college president to the national conversation about this issue.”
Ekman said, “Given the pressing national priority to increase the number of college graduates who have mastered both the skills that employers say they want and the equally urgent skills to re-engage productive use of our democratic institutions, America’s smaller independent colleges and universities have a vital role to play.” He emphasized that, “In an era when many state university systems are forced to increase tuition and limit enrollment, independent colleges offer a cost-effective alternative that accounts for higher rates of degree-completion and postgraduate satisfaction. Independent colleges are more likely to enroll and graduate low-income and first-generation college students. Their emphasis on the liberal arts is correlated with higher percentages of students who perform well on tests of learning outcomes and who succeed in science and engineering careers. Graduates of these colleges have lower levels of debt than other students, are more involved in their communities, and they graduate on time. Even Academically Adrift concedes that “students of the liberal arts do better than others in gaining the skills that lead to success in later life.”
The facts are these:
- The graduation rates at independent colleges are much higher than those at public and for-profit institutions. Nearly 60 percent of students who graduate from independent institutions do so in four years—compared with just 38 percent at state universities.
- Students at independent colleges graduate much sooner (about a year earlier) than do their peers at public institutions and five years earlier than students at for-profit institutions. This means fewer years of paying tuition, a quicker start at earning a salary, and more years in their lifetimes to earn.
- Low-income and first-generation students and students of color enrolled at independent colleges are more likely to graduate than their peers in other sectors of higher education.
- Independent colleges are affordable because they raise and distribute six times as much of their own money for student scholarships than the federal government provides in aid.
Nugent stressed that the distinctive features of independent higher education are the keys to the success of students. “These colleges offer small classes taught by full-time faculty members who have earned the highest degrees possible in their disciplines; an array of co-curricular experiences that supplement in-class learning; face-to-face interaction among students and between students and faculty members; a multiplicity of teaching approaches that meet the range of student learning styles; and opportunities for students to learn and exercise leadership skills.”
Ekman added, “At a time when the federal government and major foundations recognize the urgency of producing more college graduates with high-quality degrees, the country cannot afford to overlook precisely the kind of higher education that gets results.” What’s more, he said, “There has been a frenzy of rhetoric advocating for the wholesale adoption of online courses and pedagogies and discarding the traditional model of higher education. After years of false assumptions about the presumed high cost of independent education, the alleged loss in value of a liberal arts education in contemporary society, and the purported high debt carried by graduates of these institutions, CIC plans to take steps to correct both the record and the perception in people’s minds. I am delighted that Georgia Nugent has accepted the challenge of leading this campaign.”
The Council of Independent Colleges is an association of 645 nonprofit independent colleges and universities and more than 90 higher education organizations that has worked since 1956 to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society. CIC is the major national organization that focuses on providing services to leaders of independent colleges and universities as well as conferences, seminars, and other programs that help institutions to improve the quality of education, administrative and financial performance, and institutional visibility. CIC also provides support to state fundraising associations that organize programs and generate contributions for private colleges and universities. The Council is headquartered at One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.