Most colleges want to broadcast how intelligent, thoughtful and engaged their student body is. Colleges’ view books, the ones that are sent to prospective high school juniors and seniors, consistently advertise the “model student” who is a brilliant academic, an active member of various clubs or teams, and a humanitarian in the works— engaged in meaningful community service.
However impressive this prototype of the “model student” is, one has to wonder what they end up doing with their lives after college.
In September, The Washington Monthly published its annual college guide with public data posted by colleges about their commitment to promoting public service.
The authors, Zach Wenner, Jonny Dorsey and Fagan Harris, assessed the number of schools’ graduates that enter a field that serves their country or community.
Using data from LinkedIn and the Aspen Institute, they compiled a list of the nation’s top fifty universities and top twenty liberal arts colleges by the percent of their graduates entering public service fields. Public service fields include government, education and NGOs.
In their “Selective Service” article, Carleton ranks number six on the list of liberal arts colleges, sending 35.6% of its graduates into public service between 2000 and 2010. The top thirteen liberal arts colleges on the list sent a higher percentage of graduates into public service than the number one national university on the list.
This begs the question, is there something about the liberal arts education that makes a student more likely to enter public service? Are the students who attend liberal arts colleges intrinsically more likely to enter public service, perhaps based on their personalities and values that led them to choose a college or a university? And, more specifically, is there something about Carleton that makes our graduates some of the likeliest to enter into public service?
As the Dean of Admissions, Paul Thiboutot offers admission to some 500 students every year.
Thiboutot claims that admissions officers do not look specifically for an interest in public service when reading applications.
He explained that, “we prioritize someone who is looking beyond himself or herself—someone who will be sensitive to what it means to be part of a community, however I can’t claim we are looking for service. We are looking for people who have an awareness of themselves beyond selfish interests.”
Oftentimes students that have engaged in things beyond themselves are doing so through community service. According to statistics posted on the admissions website, 78% of the Class of 2017 has engaged in community service. 80%, 73% and 66% of the classes of 2016, 2015 and 2014, respectively, engaged in community service in high school.
Louis Newman, Associate Dean of the College, also notices the high commitment to service that prospective Carls have. “Students who apply here report on surveys that doing something meaningful with their lives is a higher priority than being financially successful,” he said. “Their high levels of involvement in social service work during high school is further evidence of this.”
Thiboutot also discussed the possibility that a liberal arts style education and the values linked with it foster a commitment to the public service, more so than a university style education.
He said, “there is nothing inherent in liberal arts leading to service, but perhaps a student who choses a small college may be more focused on community and contributing to the community.”
This logic seems to make sense—a student who choses to live and learn in a small community will likely develop a concern for building a community and engaging with the public.
On the other hand, Kim Betz, Director of the Career Center, partially attributes this commitment to public service to the liberal arts style of education itself.
She says “when you are in the liberal arts setting and you get the opportunity to think about all of these different problems in different areas and get the chance to apply different disciplines, you get a broad, global perspective of the world. Students gain such an awareness from the classes they take here.”
Newman agrees, saying, “I think many students who spend four years immersed in a liberal arts environment are well-prepared to think about how they can be of service to our society and the world at large.”
Carleton further prepares students for making their mark on the world through the Career Center. The Career Center offers a number of programs to help students get involved in public service. There are a variety of funds for students to do unpaid internships as well as funds for public service projects through the Chaplain’s office.
Betz also pointed to a number of online tools that provide students with ways to get involved in public service. For example, Pathways, a site that helps students explore career opportunities, links courses on campus to jobs and job fields, allowing students to see the courses they could take in order to connect to a specific field.
Pathways also shows the fields of employment that Carleton graduates enter, organized by major. Pathways shows many Carleton graduates from all different majors entering both education (K-12) and government/public services, for example. There are also tools that allow Carls to find alumni in the field they are interested in.
Both Betz and Thiboutot commented on the strong alumni network at Carleton and how that contributes to graduates entering public service.
Thiboutot recalls the first Director of Personnel for the Peace Corps was a Carleton grad and says, “Well it probably is not unusual that in the first few years of the Peace Corps, Carleton was providing a large number of volunteers, and over the years we have sustained that.”
Adrienne Falcon, the director of Academic Civic Engagement and a ’89 alumnus, knows from the experience of her friends and classmates that a huge number of alumni go into higher education or the state department. Even her friends who are not directly involved with NGO’s or public service tend to work in professions that help people.
Students at larger universities may feel more pressure to go into a field like business or medicine because there are more networks of support for that.
Falcon says, “Carleton nurtures students’ interests and passions and deeply cares about helping students further that. And once you go from that model, many of those jobs can end up in a public sector rather than something else. Not that business endeavors are not supported. What is different about liberal arts is being open to and supporting students’ passions.”
There is no secret formula for sending graduates into public service. However, the combination of a student body with a commitment to community service and the values and resources of a liberal arts education makes it possible for students to pursue their passions.
As long as Carleton and other schools encourage students to passionately pursue their interests, students will continue to find their way into impassioned fields like public service.