Americans are divided when it comes to what they are looking for in a college experience. For many, the ideal is a large, well-known university where students can prepare themselves for a successful professional career, such as engineering. Others value a small college that offers a traditional education in the liberal arts. However, these two visions do not have to be mutually exclusive. It is possible to receive a liberal arts education while attending a major university.

My experience within the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) at Arizona State University shows that students can combine career preparation and the liberal arts to create a unique experience. By majoring in SCETL, I enjoy all the benefits of a traditional liberal arts college: small class sizes, a robust curriculum, and time to develop close relationships with my professors and peers. At the same time, I also experience the advantages of a large university, including leading research faculty and facilities, a wide variety of areas of study, a large alumni network, an expansive career resources office, and a plethora of social events. At SCETL, I can attend a class on Lincolnian thought with 15 other students in the morning and then head to a football game with 20,000 students in the evening. This makes for an exceptional college experience.

There are programs like SCETL at well-known universities across the country. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni identifies them as Oases of Excellence, programs and centers that offer a strong liberal arts education and promote rigorous academic study at major public and private universities. By participating in these programs, students can become well-rounded learners with a strong portfolio of skills that prepares them to excel in their chosen majors.

This type of experience is not for everyone. Some students are simply not attracted to the mega-university culture and will thrive at smaller institutions. But those who wish to attend a flagship university do not have to sacrifice academic quality, thanks to programs like SCETL.


Peter Flanders is a rising third-year student at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, studying Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. He is an intern at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni working on the What Will They Learn? project.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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