Rembrandt Abraham and Hagar

. . . modest is due to the heavy financial aid that private colleges support. Independent colleges gave 27.2 billion dollars to student scholarships in 2012, nearly three times higher than the amount it gave one decade earlier and six times higher than the aid provided those students by the federal government. Over the past decade, tuition at public institutions has risen twice as fast as it has at independent colleges, as liberal arts schools have endeavored to keep costs down. Of course, the competing pressures of controllilng costs while increasing aid are some of the most acute challenges for the sustainability of liberal arts institutions.

Even as there is growing doubt about the liberal arts, there is increased concern within government and the popular press about students’ persistence to graduation. The irony here is that liberal arts colleges are substantially more successful in guiding students to the achievement of a degree. More than half (52%) of the students who enter private colleges receive their diploma within four years; the average for public institutions is 32%. After six years, the gap narrows (65% for private institutions, 57% for public ones), but the data clearly signals that a much higher percentage of graduates from private institutions are able to enter the workforce at a younger age. The contrast is even starker with for-profit institutions. The median time to a diploma at a four-year private college is 45 months; at a for-profit institution it is 103 months. Independent colleges have also fared better with students of color, as graduation rates for Latino and black students are higher at private institutions (12 percentage points higher for Latinos, 5 points higher for blacks).

During the last decade there has been considerable interest in nurturing the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In some sectors, STEM graduates have not kept pace with the emerging needs in the workforce. In that light, the CIC report emphasizes that 80% of STEM graduates at indepedent colleges finish their degrees in four years, compared to 52% of similar gradutes from public four-year doctoral institutions. A larger proportion (57%) of STEM graduates from liberal arts college aim at graduate school than similar students at public institutions (40%). Three out of five students who begin STEM majors at liberal arts colleges stay in those fields, while the rate is just over 40% for regional public universities.

In 2013 the American Academy of Colleges and Universities published a survey that indicated that 80% of employers value "liberal arts knowledge and skills." Yet, as Jeff Selingo observed recently in his oft-cited book College Unbound, there is often a disconnect between the entry level skills favored by HR managers who first assess recent graduates and the broader liberal arts qualities valued most by CEOs. All that underscores the reasons for making the case that CIC is striving to make (Read more about the "Securing America's Future" data here).