2 min read October 2021 — Saint Vincent College is the nation’s first Benedictine college, serving as a highly respected liberal arts institution. In an interview with Invest:, Father Paul Taylor, O.S.B., president of Saint Vincent College, discussed the importance of a sense of belonging for students within higher education, the advantages of a liberal arts education and his outlook for the higher education sector as a whole.
How do student experiences at Saint Vincent differ from traditional colleges and universities?
Our mission drives us. The Benedictine mission is based on a 1,500-year-old tradition at the heart of which is The Rule of Saint Benedict, written by Saint Benedict himself around the year 525. That tradition has been credited with saving western civilization. Saint Benedict and his monks copied philosophers’ texts, scriptures and other non-religious texts to save that culture and knowledge at a time when society was crumbling. Saint Benedict, by creating these monasteries and the culture of monasticism, was able to preserve culture and educate people. We continue faithfully in that tradition and move it forward.
Each student has an intense sense of belonging and connectedness to our community. That sense of belonging gives students stability and confidence in being able to succeed in their academic work. If they don’t feel comfortable or welcomed living where they are, how can they do the work they’re supposed to do? They have a base from which they can give their whole selves to their studies and lives ahead.
What advantages do liberal arts degrees have over other programs?
In 2022, there are very certain technical and focused degrees that are going to be important. But, in 2042 the demands of the labor market will be vastly different. Our graduates who take liberal arts and humanities seriously will not only learn skills, but also how to learn and adapt. They will be prepared for 2042, not just 2022. A graduate with a liberal arts core at the heart of their education is going to have a greater variety in choices of how they can develop their career. If students narrow their undergraduate studies to a singularly focused degree, they limit their opportunities for the future.
How can higher education better tackle mental health issues among students and improve their performance?
Even before the pandemic, the mental health of students was an issue. During the pandemic, it was magnified considerably. Young people today face so many challenges. I really think the strength of a loving community that supports students and makes them feel like they belong is one of the best remedies for mental health issues. Isolation is the worst thing, and the pandemic isolated students.
Fred Rogers gave us all of his archives and we established the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media here at Saint Vincent. When Rogers was challenged for not teaching science or literacy to his viewers, he responded something like this: “Science and literacy, ABCs and 123, are critically important, but these young people will not be able to learn science and literacy if they don’t have a sense that grownups are listening to them, that they are loved and that they belong.” While our audience is generally 18 to 22-year-olds, we translate that in the very same way. Unless they feel like people are listening to and hearing them, and that they belong and are loved, they’re not going to be as successful in their education.
What is your outlook for the education sector?
The outlook is challenging for the educational sector due to changing student and cultural demands. The majors that students want, the modes of delivery students want, the time that it takes to complete programs and all the different variables students look for in higher education are undergoing change. We know we need to respond to these demands but we also believe our traditional, in-person community and strong liberal arts core education have a place in the market. It’s not for everyone but it has a place for those students who want a rigorous, critical education that will give them a successful and meaningful life. Education is going to diversify in such a way that students will gain a greater number of educational choices and opportunities. We believe our choice is one of the best and we will continue to succeed in the market because it’s so strong.
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