03/14/2012 12:47 pm ET Updated May 14, 2012

Yes, You Can Afford The College Of Your Choice: Liberal Arts Colleges Increase Financial Aid

College-bound students gather around the dinner table with their families this time of year to consider the admissions letters and email notifications that are rolling in. Students who have been accepted to the private liberal arts college of their choice may worry: Can I afford it? Is it worth it? The answer to both questions is a resounding Yes. Increasingly private institutions such as St. John's College are making a commitment to affordability ­- to meeting the financial need of all students who meet the admissions requirements. The hallmarks of this kind of education ­- small classes, strong teacher-student ratio, available and attentive senior faculty, tight-knit alumni mentoring and career networking, the development of critical thinking skills, an interdisciplinary curriculum ­- are of lifelong value.

"The best education for the best is the best education for all." This statement, attributed to Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins, has been the conviction of America's most thoughtful educators for decades. They were speaking of a liberal education, one that seeks to cultivate the powers of the mind and the use of reason to develop the critical thinking skills and independence of spirit so essential to success in today's unpredictable world. Graduates of liberal arts colleges are prepared to navigate a world of change and innovation; they succeed in making a life worthy of their humanity.

St. John's provides one of the most distinctive forms of liberal education in the country. In part, this is because it is grounded in the reading and open discussion of many of the greatest works that have been written -- works that have shaped the world we inhabit. In small classes that encourage student participation, our students develop the ability to question deeply and listen thoughtfully in a world filled with noise and shallow sound bites.

But for such an education to be accessible to all requires a great commitment of financial resources, especially in times of financial stress on families. Consider the recent news that explains how the increase in financial support from private institutions lowers net tuition and makes it less expensive for a student from California to attend an out-of state private university than a public university in their own state.

St. John's College, with campuses in Annapolis Md. and Santa Fe N.M., has made just such a commitment by funding a need-based financial assistance program so that all who want to undertake our academic program and meet our requirements for admission can afford to attend. We are committed to meeting each student's full demonstrated need. To back this commitment, we have added more than $4 million to our financial aid budget in just the last few years when our students and families have needed it most.

Students who are accepted at liberal arts institutions of their choice may also worry: Will I find employment when I graduate? Specialized career training at the undergraduate level might thus seem to have appeal. And yet, study after study suggests that this can be short-sighted. In the latest of these studies, alumni of our national liberal arts colleges, including St. John¹s College, describe just how much they have benefited personally and professionally from their college experience. The Annapolis Group, a consortium of 130 independent liberal arts colleges, released the findings of a national survey .

The best preparation for the workforce of tomorrow, for the jobs that have yet to be created, is a liberal education-- the kind of education most especially found at the small residential liberal arts colleges across the country.

The Annapolis Group survey found that 60 percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt "better prepared" for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities. The reasons are undoubtedly many, but one of them must surely be the level of personal attention the student receives at these colleges. For instance, 89 percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities.

Graduates of the nation's many fine liberal arts institutions are prepared not only for a diverse range of careers but for all of life's challenges and opportunities. Liberal arts colleges propel alumni into careers and vocations of their choosing from medicine to law, start-up high tech companies to high finance, journalism to the fine and performing arts, the physical sciences to architecture, and non-profit leadership to teaching. This education provides a fitting foundation for all pursuits in life. It is of life-long value.

Like many liberal arts colleges, St. John's College's commitment to increased financial aid to meet the demonstrated need of all qualified applicants makes it affordable. For students and their families, the answer is "yes" you can afford to attend the college of your choice.