Is a liberal arts degree worth the money?

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“If I had gone to a college near my hometown, the opportunities would not have come my way, even though there are some good colleges there,” she says.

Ritika majored in History and International Relations from Ashoka University, a liberal arts school in Sonipat, Haryana. He can’t write code or build an app. However, he is confident in his ability to “figure out what to do” even when he is not technically trained “Being able to ask questions, think for yourself, communicate well – I don’t know how they teach you these skills, but you get them anyway,” says Ritika. “Ashok taught me how to swim and swim fast.” .”

Another liberal arts graduate is Akshay Shankar, who majored in psychology from Cree University in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh.

Classes are going on at Krea University

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Classes are going on at Krea University

“The psychology I studied was academic. But the skills I picked up indirectly were quite useful,” says Shankar. “We didn’t just give conventional tests, but were assessed through assignments like video essays, podcasts and posters. They have come in handy now.”

Shankar holds a Marketing Communications role at Bayana Networks, a business-to-business trade financing firm.

In short, this is what a liberal arts degree taught by new private universities in the last decade promises. Skills that aren’t easy to put on a resume—such as programming, analysis, or design—but come to the fore when solving problems.

Graphic: Mint

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Graphic: Mint

Every liberal arts graduate, regardless of their major, is supposed to take foundation or core courses in mathematical and scientific reasoning, critical thinking, philosophy, literature, economics, and society. This gives them a well-rounded view of the world. Students take interdisciplinary courses for the first year and a half before deciding on a major. They may pursue minors, or even diverse subjects. So, one can graduate with a major in literature and a minor in computer science.

Ashoka University and Kriya University offer majors across basic and computer science, humanities and social sciences. At Flame University, Pune, one can major in applied mathematics, business, computer science, marketing, humanities and social sciences. OP Jindal Global University (JGU) in Sonipat confines itself across social sciences, arts and humanities. Shiv Nadar University (SNU), near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, offers science, humanities and social sciences as well as engineering and management majors.

All these institutions have some things in common. They began as a state private university (a non-profit university established under state law, and recognized by the University Grants Commission) and not a college affiliated with existing public universities, where the curriculum is more rigorous; They are motivated by private philanthropic capital; They boast research collaborations, faculty and student exchange programs with top universities in the US and Europe; A large number of their teachers are from the best universities in India and abroad.

Classes are ongoing at OP Jindal Global University

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Classes are ongoing at OP Jindal Global University

There is one more similarity—they are expensive without financial support.

Prospective students and their parents, therefore, will have many questions. Where do students go after graduation? What are their immediate alternatives? If they want to work, what is their starting salary? And what are their long-term career prospects?

Mint spoke to schools, their alumni and current students to find some answers.

Big budget

How Expensive Are Liberal Arts Schools?

A three- or four-year bachelor’s degree at schools like Ashoka, Kriya, Flame or JGU will cost six to 10 times more than a Delhi University (DU) course – it could cost 25-40 lakhs. They even outperform private engineering colleges like Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) by some margin.

These universities, however, have smartly positioned themselves as an alternative to a degree in the US or Canada, which can cost money 2-3 crores for a four-year bachelor.

Take Urvin Soneta, a resident of Mulund, Mumbai. He preferred to go to University of Toronto in the Netherlands and Ashoka University through engineering courses at Tue Delft. His family realized that programs abroad would be “too expensive”, whereas Ashok’s education could be of “equal” quality. Moreover, he will stay close to home. Soneta graduated in 2018 with a major in Economics and a minor in Computer Science. He even got a one-third discount off his total fee.

Shikha University

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Shikha University

Liberal arts universities offer need-based aid or merit scholarships to make education affordable and attract top talent. Ashoka claims that about 50% of its graduate students are on financial aid. Krea says about one-third of her students receive financial aid. JGU offers a waiver of between 10% and 50% of its tuition fees, and 70% of its liberal arts students receive aid, said Nishi Mishra, program director, JGU’s School of Liberal Arts and Humanities. One-third of undergraduate students at Flame University are on scholarships/financial aid.

Loans are an option for those not on scholarship. The total cost for Ritika’s four-year degree was approx 30 lakhs. Lacking help, his father took a personal loan.

Stephen vs. Ashok

What do the ranking statistics of these universities indicate?

The average salary (company cost) paid during campus recruitment at St. Stephen’s College, Lady Shri Ram College (as per their website) and Shri Ram College of Commerce (as per its placement cell) was 9 lakhs and 10 lakh annually by 2021-22. All three colleges are in Delhi.

In comparison, campus offerings are average 11 lakhs per annum for an Ashoka graduate and slightly less for Krea and JGU. According to the spokesperson from this institution, the offer is average 7 lakh per annum.

A 9.3 lakh, SNU, which also offers engineering and management courses, earned a higher average salary than VIT ( 8.2 lakh), according to information on their website.

However, all liberal arts colleges still lag far behind the eye-popping packages offered to fresh graduates at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Average salaries tend to be above average 20 lakhs for B.Tech graduates from IIT Bombay, IIT Guwahati and IIT Hyderabad. International offerings and the introduction of technology have reduced the number.

To be fair, India’s liberal arts institutions are still relatively new. Krea’s first graduating batch passed out only last year. Ashoka and the first batch of graduates at JGU graduated in 2017-18. It may seem absurd to compare their ranking statistics with those of colleges that have been around for decades. New schools do not yet have a strong alumni network And it takes years to build relationships with top recruiters.

Nice work?

Mint’s conversations with Ashoka, Kriya and JGU alumni and spokespeople suggest that everyone looking for a job is placed by the time they graduate. Even when companies do not visit campus, students are assisted by the Career Services Office (CSO) in off-campus recruitment drives.

The question is whether students find the jobs they aspire to.

By the end of the fourth year, Urvin Soneta had offers from two companies: consulting firm E&Y and RBL Bank. He chose the bank and joined as a management trainee – his experiments with a business journalism course in fourth year made him interested in finance. The position he was hired for is usually reserved for MBAs, he says.

Arya Swamy, who went to JGU, wanted a people-oriented role. He took several courses like organizational development and change management. It paid off as he was placed as a recruitment trainee at BCG, a consulting firm.

However, not everyone bags the job they love.

Aakash Rao, a third-year computer science major at Ashoka, feels that the offers coming his way are not what he expected. “The computer science department is primarily research-focused, but the Career Development Office (CDO) is getting our UI/UX design roles,” he says.

Rao is working on high-end machine learning (ML) projects with his professors and wants an ML-focused role. He notes that campus recruiting is skewed toward economics majors, who are offered advisory roles.

An Ashok spokesperson clarified that many students are working in UI/UX roles. Students recruited by the consulting firms include history, philosophy, political science, psychology and mathematics majors as well as economics majors, the spokesperson added.

Maitri Modi, a computer science major at CREA, said that most of the companies that CSOs attracted for placements were startups; There were few famous companies. “If you calculate the return on investment, you pay approx 25 lakhs in three years. You don’t want to go as low 4 lakh per year (offered by a startup).”

Modi was eventually hired at ThoughtWorks, a technology multinational. He was notified of the opening through the CSO, but went through the process himself, which he says is similar to off-campus recruiting.

Cree University did not comment on Modi’s experience.

Lifelong training

Ramkumar Ramamurthy, former chairman and managing director of Cognizant India, who was on the board of liberal arts and technical colleges, recommends “looking at pay beyond the job”.

New-age universities offer a much larger canvas of opportunities for long-term professional growth through an enviable peer group, he argues. They provide career paths in exciting fields, including international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as a platform for entry into Tier 1 universities worldwide, he added.

A large proportion of students graduating from these colleges opt for higher education. Out of 116 graduates from JGU in 2021-22, 44 went for their Masters in India and abroad. About 29 out of 104 Kriyas have progressed to higher education, institutions such as Delhi University, Oxford, Sussex, Carnegie Mellon, Chicago etc. About 50% of undergraduates at FLEM either stay for a fourth year or go on to pursue a master’s at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Texas.

Meanwhile, many students from these schools have become confident enough to chart their own path.

After a year at RBL Bank, Soneta realized that there is a life beyond money. He already had a minor in computer science but wanted to study more. He went to Plaksha University, another private university located in Mohali, Punjab, for his diploma. Here, he worked on a digital project and then started Synth, a tech company with a classmate. Synth was selected for the Y Combinator accelerator program in 2021—the company’s product provides summaries and insights into meetings held, among other features.

At various stages of her career, Soneta never stopped trying new things. “Part of that comes from my upbringing. But Ashok shaped the way I think today,” he says.

The true payoff of a liberal arts degree, therefore, may not result in instant gratification. It prepares one for the long haul—to navigate careers well and become a lifelong learner. After all, this is the future of jobs.

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