Recently publicized national research reinforces the value of a liberal arts education, and the personal experiences of Mary Baldwin University (Mary Baldwin) graduates echo many of those findings, demonstrating the solid return on investment of a Mary Baldwin education. The spring issue of Boldly Baldwin begins an exploration of the forces affecting private, nonprofit higher education and Mary Baldwin’s response.


The Data


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A short video developed by NAICU sets the record straight about the costs and viability of private, nonprofit higher education.

Researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that college-educated workers have more than survived the Great Recession, they have led the economic recovery. The team compared unemployment rates, earnings, and new job growth for  college grads and those without postsecondary  education in a 2012 study.

Inside Higher Ed reports that business executives care more about their new hires’ thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills — qualities encouraged in Mary Baldwin students — than they do about their undergraduate majors.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Women’s Colleges Coalition reinforces the concept of the Women’s College Advantage, including data that shows women’s college graduates have more earning potential and more collaborative tendencies then their peers who attended co-ed institutions.


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THE VALUE OF HIGHER EDUCATION refuses to be squeezed into a direct return on investment equation.

It is fairly easy to compare college costs with post-graduate earnings. Recent studies estimate that the average American student leaves college with about $27,000 in loan debt — a significant sum, no doubt, but still less than the typical figure borrowed for a new vehicle. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that a college graduate accrues $1.1 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. But there’s more to higher education than earning potential, and those wide-ranging benefits of advanced education are much harder to measure.

An alumnae/i survey conducted in 2012 by the Mary Baldwin Office of Institutional Research reveals more of the true returns on education: career flexibility and adaptability, self-reliance, leadership ability, inspiring friends and family members, finding a job that one is good at and passionate about, and a valuable network of classmates and professors.

“No matter what a young woman’s strengths or interests are, she’ll find an outlet for them at Mary Baldwin … and end up discovering new ones along the way,” wrote one respondent.

“Extremely supportive faculty prepared me for entering into the work force and have helped me develop a strong sense of self and confidence,” said another participant.

These comments and other data collected by the survey provide insight into what Mary Baldwin alumnae/i appreciate most about their education. Not surprisingly, leadership — which is required as a minor for cadets in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership and is encouraged for students regardless of major — and service emerged as common themes. In addition to write-in comments such as, “student leadership and independent research are, by far, the best things Mary Baldwin has to offer,” more than 70 percent of respondents said they were active volunteers, 42 percent had served as a volunteer leader, and nearly half of survey participants had held a paid leadership position since graduation.

“When I left Mary Baldwin, I knew I had set of skills to use in the real world. I knew how to be my own advocate, and I was confident that being a woman did not prevent me from being a leader,” wrote one alumna, capturing the sentiment of dozens of comments.

Overall, the responses of Mary Baldwin alumnae/i echo the findings of an extensive nationwide study in 2012 by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce that analyzed the value of a bachelor’s degree in the wake of the Great Recession. After comparing unemployment rates, earnings, and new job growth for recent college grads and those without postsecondary education,  the study reached a bold and encouraging conclusion: The only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college.


Higher education — its value and role in society — has risen to a level of public scrutiny and debate unprecedented in my career. Books, articles, research reports, and opinion pieces have inundated the mainstream market. They have explored every conceivable facet of the issue — or so I sometimes think, until the next morning when a new crop of articles appear in my inbox.

It is my job to make sense of the turbulent landscape of higher education and to ensure that Mary Baldwin continues to be “ever ahead” (to use the motto adopted by the Campaign for Mary Baldwin University) in empowering our students to become the confident, compassionate changemakers that our world needs. Last summer I read dozens of books and hundreds of articles, and I continue to pay close attention to the ongoing debate through daily reading and participating in national higher education organizations along with other college presidents. Read More