QU's president speaks up in defense of liberal arts education

Posted: Jul. 18, 2014 10:28 pm Updated: Aug. 9, 2014 3:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Quincy University President Robert Gervasi is rising to the defense of independent liberal arts colleges.

He is speaking out as part of a national campaign sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges -- an association of 645 nonprofit, independent colleges and universities.

Gervasi is one of 30 college presidents on the CIC's governing board. He also serves on the board's public information committee, which is encouraging college officials around the country to speak up in support of higher education, which he says has been "under assault" in recent months.

"It is professionally troubling and personally hurtful to see so much negative press questioning the value of a liberal arts education," Gervasi said in an interview.

He said much of the negativity has focused on the escalating costs of college tuitions, the heavy debt load incurred by many students and the inability of some college graduates to find work in their chosen career fields.

He said high school students are hearing a message that a liberal arts education "is not worth the money" and can leave them with troubling debt. He believes many students are getting an "incorrect perception."

"Higher education is the most long-term investment you could make in your life -- except for marriage," he said.

He said the typical American student emerges from college with a loan debt of a little more than $25,000.

"The reality is that 20 percent of Quincy University students graduate with no debt, and those that do graduate with debt on average have a debt load that does not exceed the cost of the student's first automobile," Gervasi said.

He said an investment of that magnitude can pay big dividends in the long run by giving college graduates more opportunities to earn bigger salaries in the future while they gain personally by expanding their knowledge and world view.

"And yet we're discouraging people from making that kind of an investment. It's a lifetime of benefit," he said. "Unfortunately, our whole culture has moved toward short-term thinking.

"Education is helping people grow. I bristle when I hear people talk about college versus the ‘real world after college.' That is not a hard-and-fast distinction, particularly for an institution like QU that focuses so much on preparing our students for success after gradation. This is part of the real world ... where students are learning how to be even more successful when they leave."

Gervasi said he recognizes that not everyone is cut out for college, and some high school graduates could benefit by focusing on getting technical training to prepare them for technical careers they may find interesting. However, he believes students shouldn't be discouraged from seeking a liberal arts education simply because it can be expensive.

"As a culture, we're not encouraging kids to think long-term," he said. "We're encouraging them to react in fear to the current economic environment and grab at whatever they can to get a paycheck now, even though it might lock them into something that they may not really like long-term."

Gervasi said many independent colleges and universities, like QU, find ways to help prospective students finance their college education. He said 98 percent of all QU students get some type of financial aid during their college careers, adding that QU's admission counselors and financial aid staff have developed a program that encourages students to borrow "no more than they need" to minimize the debt load they could face after graduation.