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Perceptions from LA

January 29th, 2010

Rebecca ChoppThe 2010 Listening Tour events kicked off in true California style at the Creative Artists Agency in LA Tuesday night. About 75 West Coast alums joined us for a lively evening of great conversation and thought-provoking questions. I met so many engaging alumni during the pre-event reception where the discussion was energetic and infused with a love and regard for the College that invariably inspires me.

During the program in the lovely CAA theatre, the high energy continued. We covered many topics including the influence of Quaker values on the College; how to prepare students for life skills, as well as career skills; the need to continue to uphold the highest academic standards, including teaching our students to write and speak effectively; the definition of diversity; and the ongoing importance of engineering and the sciences in our academic offerings.

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We also spent some time discussing post-graduate life. One parent in the audience shared that he had recently asked his son (a sophomore) if he or any of his friends ever talk about what they intend to do after graduation. He was surprised, and somewhat concerned to hear that this was not something his son or his son's friends spend much time thinking about. So he reasonably asked, what is the College doing to ensure that our students are prepared to make good career choices, particularly given the difficult job market now?

In the recent past we have significantly upped the investment in our Career Services program at the College and are increasingly better prepared to counsel students on a wide variety of career choices including business, law, medicine, the non-profit sector, education and government, among others. We have also expanded our on-campus outreach and those students who take advantage of these services report a high level of satisfaction. The Career Services office is a warm, welcoming, and popular student drop-in spot, whose door is always open. Its staff organizes regular open houses and lectures by experts in various fields, among other events. Many of the services offered are also available to alumni for as long as they need them.

In addition, the Office of Alumni Relations partners with Career Services in a number of ways including the development of an extensive Extern Program that enables undergraduates to experience professional life firsthand under the careful tutelage of dozens of alumni volunteers. This January, as happens every year, many students took advantage of the week-long program which is organized in five major cities across the country. Students can "shadow" alumni as they learn first-hand about their chosen fields.

Across the country, many alumni ask what they can do to help the College and although there are numerous ways an alum can contribute — volunteering opportunities or financial donations among them — I encourage alumni from across the professional spectrum to consider participating in our Extern Program or other programs that connect current students with alumni in the work place. Opening our undergraduates' minds to the plethora of career options available to them is a tangible way to "give back" to the College and to the next generation of leaders. Our graduates consistently remark that having had this experience helped shape the choices they made in post-graduate life.

4 Responses to “Perceptions from LA”

  1. John Halbert '90 says:

    I am strongly encouraged by the focus on preparing students for life after Swarthmore. I was completely unprepared for life after Swat, and I paid a very heavy price - years of financial and personal instability. One suggestion along these lines: Please let Swarthmore students that there is nothing wrong with networking. When I was there, in the late '80's, networking was considered taboo - sophisticated liberal intellectuals didn't do that kind of thing. You were supposed to get a job based on what you knew, not who you knew. One thing I have discovered is that everyone has a different style of networking.

    I would like to take issue with one of President Chopp's answers, and that is about Swarthmore's competition. She noted that Swarthmore competes with students primarily with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. I'm sure this is technically true. But in a larger sense, Swarthmore's competition is not the Ivy League, Williams, Amherst, or even the great state schools like Berkeley or Michigan.

    Swarthmore's competition is Google, Amazon, Apple and the New York Times. It is McKinsey, Microsoft, and The Atlantic. It is Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and the ACLU. There was a time when liberal arts colleges and universities were the centers of enlightened and progressive thinking in America. In the hard sciences, this is still the case. In the social sciences and the humanities, it no longer is. You can learn about Shakespeare by taking a Shakespeare seminar at Swat, or you can watch a lot of Shakespeare movies from Netflix. That won't be as academically rigorous as the seminar, but it's also about 1/100th the price. But combine Netflix with a degree from the University of Virginia, and there is suddenly not much difference between UVA and Swarthmore.

    This is important because it speaks to the issue of cost versus value. Swarthmore costs a lot more than a good state school, and implicit in the idea of Swarthmore costing so much more is the idea that it is a better value. But measured in strictly economic terms, I highly doubt that Swarthmore delivers a better value than a good state school. There may be some Swarthmore students who make more money after graduating from Swat than they would have if they had gone to a good state school. But I don't know any. Pretty much everyone that I know who graduated from Swarthmore is making a good, solid, average middle class living. Most of them are pretty happy with their Swarthmore experiences (with some exceptions, including me). But none of them paid $50,000 a year.

  2. H. Collings says:


    I agree that Swarthmore not be a likely price competitor for in-state public tuition. Having visited places like UVA during a recent college search that made me a Swarthmore parent, I would caution not to over-romanticize the education at large state schools, even very good ones. For example, Swarthmore could save considerable money by having its discussion sections led by grad student TAs, too. There are real differences in a public university scale educational offering and an interactive, boutique scale program. I would consider Virginians among the four luckiest in the in-state public education draw, along with North Carolina, Michigan, and California. These schools, however, all under extreme financial duress. Berkeley, for example, routinely has lectures courses with over 1000 students. That, IMO, is no way to teach undergrads.

    Comparing publics to Swarthmore is difficult because of the way numbers are reported, but here are a few key indicators from the 2009-2010 Common Data Set filings for UVA and Swarthmore:

    Total undergrad Enrollment:

    Swarthmore: 1,525
    Univ. Virginia: 15,208

    Tuition, room, board, and fees (out of state):

    Swarthmore: $49,578
    Univ. Virginia: $40,290

    Institutional need and non-need based grant aid:

    Swarthmore: $23,718,392 ($15,553 per undergrad)
    Univ. Virginia: $33,674,560 ($2,214 per undergrad)

    The average student at Swarthmore paid $32,000 room, board, tuition, a nd fees last year. I can't give you an average for UVA, but it's almost certain that the average out-of-state student at UVA last year paid more than the average Swarthmore student. For example, UVA has no institutional aid for international students.

    Swarthmore spent over $80,000 per student in operating expenses last year. Providing an $80,000 educational program for an average cost of $32,000 is high value and the reason that the application numbers are at all time historic highs.

  3. Benjamin says:

    Any chance for a visit to Seattle?

  4. Rebecca Chopp says:

    Yes, a visit to Seattle is very likely next year! I hope we'll have a chance to meet then.