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Does the type of school an undergraduate attends really make a difference? A new survey suggests that it does.

A comparative alumni survey, conducted by the independent research firm of Hardwick Day and commissioned by the Annapolis Group (a consortium of the nation's leading liberal arts colleges, including St. Lawrence University), has found that the undergraduate experience students encounter at small, residential liberal arts colleges is more effective in producing meaningful and lasting benefits than the education experienced at large, public universities and other institutions of higher education.

The study, titled What Matters in College After College, has been published on the Annapolis Group Web site,

The survey indicates that a residential, liberal arts education not only leads to a number of immediate positive outcomes, but that these outcomes are present in and important to liberal arts college alumni long after their college experience has ended.

Among the findings:

# Alumni from Annapolis Group liberal arts colleges reported closer interaction with professors, greater involvement in experiential learning and extracurricular activities and an emphasis on values and ethics that is often absent at public universities.

# Liberal arts college graduates also reported a greater sense of community with other students, friendships and opportunities for peer interactions not found at the public institutions.

# Liberal arts college grads are significantly more likely than graduates of other types of colleges to hold a graduate degree and to feel better prepared for life after college.
# Liberal arts college graduates are more likely than any other group to have graduated in four years or less. They also report higher overall satisfaction with their undergraduate education than graduates of any other type of college or university.

# Graduates of small, residential liberal arts colleges credit their undergraduate experience for helping them develop a broad range of skills important to their everyday lives (problem-solving, making effective decisions, thinking analytically, writing effectively, relating to people of different backgrounds and developing new skills). These broad skills - more than the undergraduate major itself - helped grads get their first job or gain admission to graduate school, and have continued to help with career changes or advancement. Annapolis Group alumni say these skills have remained extremely important in their lives after college.

# Liberal arts college alumni have strong personal values, and place importance on a range of activities: contributing to the community, participating in organizations that help disadvantaged members of society, promoting racial equality or other social justice issues, using their best skills and abilities, and having the freedom to consider moral and ethical aspects of decisions.

Although alumni of Annapolis Group colleges are involved in their communities at about the same rate as alumni of other types of schools, Annapolis Group alumni are more likely than other alumni to remain involved with their schools after graduation.

The Hardwick Day study was based on interviews with 1,571 alumni from five types of schools: Annapolis Group liberal arts colleges, private universities, the top 50 public universities (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report), national flagship public universities and regional public universities.

Unlike most previous studies that have surveyed students shortly after their graduation, the Hardwick Day study surveyed alumni from the Classes of 1970 through 1995, and tried to assess lasting effects on career preparation, broad skill development, personal and professional values and attitudes, community involvement, and overall satisfaction with undergraduate education.

The Hardwick Day study drew on Alexander Astin's (UCLA) What Matters in College: Four Critical Years Revisited, the definitive study of how students change and develop in college and how colleges can enhance that development, and the work of education researchers such as Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini on educational effectiveness. The Hardwick Day survey sought to identify the extent to which the attributes associated with educational effectiveness are present at various types of colleges and universities, as reported by their alumni, and the degree to which these attributes are valued by the alumni themselves.

Posted: December 18, 2002