The value of a liberal arts degree

The value of a liberal arts degree is a hot topic today. Dr. Patrick Jones, Excelsior College’s vice provost, recently sat down with Excelsior Life to discuss the value of a liberal arts degree and some interesting career paths.

Excelsior Life: The School of Liberal Arts offers one of the most popular programs at Excelsior College, the Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts (BSL), as well as a variety of other offerings. What do students find most attractive about an Excelsior liberal arts degree?

Patrick Jones, PhD, Excelsior College
Dr. Patrick Jones

Dr. Jones: Excelsior’s School of Liberal Arts offers three (3) associate’s degrees, twelve (12) bachelor’s degrees, and one master’s degree. Each of these programs is designed to provide students with ample opportunity for the recognition and acceptance of transfer credit earned at other colleges or universities, or from approved sources of credit (e.g., American Council on Education recommended training programs, Excelsior faculty approved credit sources based on reviews of military and industry training and credentials, etc.). The School of Liberal Arts exemplifies the motto, “What you know is more important than where or how you learned it!” by designing contemporary degree programs which value prior learning achieved by our adult students.

For our undergraduate programs, they may apply transfer credit from any approved credit source toward all degree requirements with the exception of the 3-credit capstone course. For the master’s degree program, students may apply transfer credit from any approved credit source toward 15 of the 33 credits required, which is a very generous transfer credit acceptance policy for graduate programs nationwide.

Excelsior’s liberal arts degrees are also designed to promote job skills which are highly valued by employers and help students advance in their current and new careers. Excelsior’s liberal arts offerings focus on competencies and skills such as interpersonal communication, oral and written communication, cultural communication, analytical and critical reasoning, teamwork, flexibility, and ethics. These core skills and competencies may be applied successfully in any career setting, and graduates from our liberal arts programs gain the necessary foundation to adapt and succeed in a changing employment market.


Excelsior Life: What are the top five reasons students should pursue a Liberal Arts degree?

Dr. Jones: My top five reasons are listed below.

  1. A liberal arts education provides students with the knowledge, skills and competencies to engage in critical and analytical thinking in a broad array of disciplines (e.g., humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, communication).
  2. A liberal arts degree requires students to develop an appreciation for culture, diversity, and ethics which results in a more informed and effective citizenry.
  3. Liberal arts graduates are able to engage in effective problem solving in a variety of occupational situations because of their exposure to a broad array of disciplines during their educational journey.
  4. A liberal arts degree provides excellent preparation for graduate studies and careers in an extensive range of disciplines (e.g., law, business, fine arts, education, etc.).
  5. A liberal arts education offers many options for students interested in careers in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, communication, and writing.


Excelsior Life: What are some of the more interesting career paths of our graduates who earned a Liberal Arts degree?

Dr. Jones: Our graduates work in a variety of settings. Some of the more fascinating career paths include:

Robert V. Kaleta, Bachelor of Arts, 2000. Kaleta is a senior vice president of business development for Cloudeeva, a global cloud services and technology solutions company.

Harold Geller, BSL, 1983. Geller published a book in September 2013, “All the Secrets of the Solar System in Large Print,” which brings the visually impaired reader the latest information about all the components of the solar system.

Richard G Rosner, Bachelor of Science, 1993. Rosner is an Emmy-nominated television writer with six Writers Guild Awards. He has worked for the major networks in addition to MTV, VHI and Comedy Central.

Felicia Haecker, BSL, 2007 – President of Haecker Associates Consulting and an adjunct professor at Brandman University, Haecker also serves as a mentor in the Center for Military Education’s Veteran Mentorship Program.


Excelsior Life: As a graduate with a degree in Liberal Arts, how did this degree personally impact your career?

Dr. Jones: I attended Bates College, a small, private non-profit liberal arts college in Maine. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1977. After graduation, I was unsure of which area of psychology that I wished to pursue, so I volunteered for 6 months as a research assistant at a state, residential mental health facility. I quickly decided that this area of psychology did not really appeal to me as a career, and I applied for graduate programs in the areas of educational psychology with emphases on measurement, evaluation, and applied statistics.

With my robust training in psychology as an undergraduate bachelor’s degree student, I was able to apply critical thinking skills and then explore other parts of psychology which better suited my career and graduate study interests. After receiving my doctoral degree from Columbia University in 1987, I pursued a management career at a national testing service which developed and administered licensing and certification exams for credentialing organizations, and then switched careers in 2002 to join Excelsior as first a Dean and eventually vice provost and interim co-dean of the School of Liberal Arts.


Excelsior Life: According to a study by PayScale, the average starting salary for a Liberal Arts graduate in the country is $36,000. The same study found Excelsior College among the top ten schools for liberal arts graduates based on earnings, with starting salaries of $50,000 annually and midcareer salaries of $77,000. Can you share insight?

Dr. Jones: Excelsior’s typical student is a working adult who seeks a degree which will help them advance in a current or new career. Our students are highly motivated and demonstrate excellent time management and self regulation skills. A large proportion of Excelsior’s liberal arts students are current or former military service members, and their training, experience, and education, make them extremely attractive to employers who seek a motivated and well-trained work force. Given these factors, it is not surprising that employers who participated in the PayScale study find our graduates to be highly desirable and compensate them accordingly.

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