Career Preparation and the Liberal Arts

Career Preparation brief cover


  • This brief explores a central question: How does the independent sector of higher education balance expectations for job preparation with the preparation of students for full lives as educated citizens?

  • The debate about the role of liberal arts institutions in preparing students for careers is not new. But several trends have made the debate more intense since 2008: a greater emphasis on the short-term economic benefits of higher education, especially as the perceived cost of postsecondary education has risen; a higher percentage of undergraduate programs in professional fields; a more widespread perception that colleges and universities do a poor job of preparing students for the workforce; and, in reaction, resurgent concerns about too much emphasis on employability.

  • The debates often ignore the demonstrated success of smaller independent colleges and universities with a liberal arts focus in preparing students for careers: Graduates of such institutions are at least as likely to find jobs in the first six months, will earn about as much in their lifetimes, and will enjoy a higher level of career satisfaction than their peers who graduate from other institutions.

  • Smaller institutions achieve these outcomes through undergraduate programs with a professional emphasis that incorporate substantial liberal arts content; liberal arts degree programs that integrate career preparation; experiential learning opportunities, especially internships; and innovative career preparation activities that supplement the liberal arts curriculum. Career centers play an important role.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By Philip M. Katz
July 2015

Student Outcomes