“When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now what’s the matter buddy
Ain’t you heard of my school
It’s number one in the state”
Readers know that I am a proud alum of Ursinus College. I have been true to my school – contributing time, talent and treasure over the 30 years since I graduated in 1986. Yet, I have not come close to repaying the debt I owe to that institution. I can trace much of my success and achievements in life to four factors: my parents, my wife, my faith based catholic education from K – 12, and my four years at Ursinus College — the small, liberal arts college in, yes, Collegeville, PA outside of Philadelphia.
Why Ursinus College? (By the way, it is er–SIGN–us. And, don’t try it – we have already heard all of the jokes.) Like many people, I like to say that I picked the right college for all the wrong reasons. As the oldest of five, I was very sensitive to cost. As a (mostly) “straight A” student with strong SAT scores, I wanted an academic challenge. As a homebody, I wanted to be within driving distance of home. As an athlete, I wanted to continue playing basketball. So, why Ursinus College? It was close. It was the least expensive. It was “highly selective.” The basketball team had just gone to the D-III Final Four. And, most importantly, I made my campus visit on a spectacular spring day and was dumbfounded as a 17 year old to see all of the co-eds in shorts and tank tops sitting out in the sun. To someone who had just spent four years at an all-boys, Catholic high school, this was heaven. Oh yeah – and they accepted me.
Since that sophisticated, highly technical decision tree analysis of 30 years ago, I have come to realize the singular importance of a liberal arts education. A liberal arts education – the one Ursinus College offers especially – does not “make you who you are.” A liberal arts education allows you “to become who you were meant to be.”
Ursinus College is egalitarian. It does not put on airs. It is working class. Most students work on campus (I had multiple jobs during my four years). Few students have cars on campus and those that do are likely not driving a late model German import.
The late President of Ursinus College, Bobby Fong, (who I had the privilege to work with as an Ursinus College trustee), gave one of the best definitions of the power of a liberal arts education – “it gives you the power to change the world.” Dr. Fong knew that a liberal arts education prepares students for careers in industries that don’t even exist yet. Liberal arts are not specific. They are general. Graduate school is for specifics. Corporate training / intern programs are for specifics. The liberal arts are for creating the foundation upon which you build a life. As an homage to Bobby Fong, a lifelong and avid baseball fan, the liberal arts are “spring training” for life. This is where you work on the fundamentals. The batting cage, bunting, base running, infield, shagging pop-ups, hit-and-runs and cut-off drills are replaced by science, math, philosophy, literature, humanities, language, creative writing and critical thinking. None of these areas – in a vacuum – will land you a job.
Taken in their totality, the liberal arts will land you a life.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.