by Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
Students and families have much to consider when choosing an academic major and then selecting an institution of higher education to achieve their professional dreams. Admittedly, it is not an easy decision as value and professional preparation in career-directed fields of study are important elements under careful deliberation.
As president of a university that bases its teaching and learning on a liberal arts model, I witness the transformation as students learn and practice what it takes to become successful in life and in their future careers. I field questions regularly from prospective students and parents who are concerned about how institutions prepare students for rewarding careers. Do the facts support our statements that a liberal-arts base, coupled with career-directed majors, lead to promising futures?
Let us take a closer look at the bachelor degrees awarded in Pennsylvania during the 2016-17 academic year. There are three broad categories of colleges and universities that issue a significant number of bachelor degrees: 14 state system universities (such as Clarion, West Chester and Shippensburg), four state-related universities (Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and Pitt), and more than 90 independent colleges and universities. Many of the independents are smaller and located in less-populated areas, serving a regional student body. Others, such as Penn and Drexel, are larger in scale and academic offerings.
Independent universities award nearly half of all bachelor degrees in the Keystone state, with 43,450 graduates in 2016-17. State-related universities issued 28,963 degrees and the state system conferred 19,608, according to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICUP).
Are these graduates ready for successful careers? In my view, the clear answer is “yes,” regardless of how you define career-ready degrees. About two-thirds of bachelor degrees are granted in fields that lead to a rewarding career.
In the general health professions, more than 10,000 degrees were awarded during the 2016-17 academic year – more than two-thirds of them from independent institutions. A similar scenario plays out in nursing, where independent institutions awarded more than 4,000 Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing. Misericordia University, where I serve as president, enrolls more than 40 percent of its incoming class annually into one of six health professions.
Education presents a similar view, with about 4,000 new bachelor degrees awarded to our future teachers each year. Business and related areas, such as marketing and management, add another 18,000 degrees, and independent institutions award nearly one-half of those degrees.
What about STEM degrees? More than 5,000 biology and biological science graduates received their degrees in the state – and independent institutions accounted for more than half of them. The independents and state-related universities almost split the more than 6,000 graduates in engineering evenly. In addition, the independents conferred about one-third of the degrees in computer and information science.
In total, AICUP reports that about 70 percent of degrees in each of the three college categories are clearly oriented toward a career – that is more than 60,000 career ready graduates annually. The remaining 30 percent are typically in the social science and humanities, areas that are the source of our future legal, business, and social work colleagues. As such, the areas not as directly career-directed also are preparing graduates for successful careers.
Pennsylvania has a distinct advantage over many other states thanks to having three distinct paths for students in pursuit of a successful career and life. Independent colleges are proud to provide an excellent education to so many of our ambitious and aspirational students. Let us continue to support students and families as they choose a path toward a brighter future.
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County.