The true value of a Montevallo education

By JOHN STEWART / Guest Columnist

There is a good deal of talk these days about the value of a college degree. Students, parents and policy makers are rightly concerned with the question: is a college degree worth it?

At the University of Montevallo, we provide a liberal arts education that prepares students for life and career by equipping them with the ability to write, communicate and think creatively and critically.

I’ll paraphrase what one highly successful entrepreneur shared with me: “I always love to hire Montevallo graduates because they are prepared for professional life. I can teach new employees the specifics of my business, but I can’t give them communication skills, deep thinking and problem-solving abilities. Your kids just come out ready for work and can adapt to changes and market conditions like no others.”

On May 3, another graduating class will march boldly from our gates into a rapidly changing world — a world with a global economy.

Many will become accomplished business professionals. Others will head for Broadway’s bright lights, or the fluorescent lights of research labs. Our tradition of strong medical school and law school placement will continue.

Many will take their places right here in Shelby County — teaching and counseling our children, remediating speech disabilities, caring for our underserved, leading churches, holding office and volunteering. They will earn good livings, but as Montevallo alums they will not obsess on it.

They will engage society more interested in outcomes than incomes. Those who become wealthy are likely to be philanthropists. Those who become physicians will have a deeper understanding of and compassion for human suffering. All who leave our gates will be smart, balanced and prepared.

Someone asked me recently to render a defense of the liberal arts in an age when there is hyper focus on specific training for technical jobs. I started by reminding him that some of those jobs may not exist in five years, that building a successful career is more about keeping jobs and performing them well and creatively than getting the first one.

I told him of my understanding that about a third of the Fortune 500 CEOs are liberal arts college graduates…then I waxed more philosophically.

Montevallo students, I told him, have wonderfully devoted faculty with sterling credentials for the entirety of their college careers. They are not 300 young adults in a cavernous lecture hall for half of their education.

Here, they learn valuable pre-professional skills, but they also get something timeless and real — something that will serve them well in their professions and in life — for the long haul. Like the great books, the classics, the scientific theories and theorems they study, Montevallo graduates have depth and substance — and genuine value. I’ll take that every time.

John Stewart is the president of the University of Montevallo.