The series titled “Thought Leaders: An Ongoing Conversation on the Future of the Liberal Arts,” is an attempt to discuss and think about how liberal arts colleges, like Wheaton, can adapt and evolve along with a rapidly changing world. Beginning this semester, Wheaton has invited guest lecturers and speakers to join this discussion with all faculty and students of the college.
A few weeks ago, President of Skidmore College Phil Glotzbach participated in a discussion with Wheaton College President Ronald Crutcher. Last Thursday, the series continued by welcoming Carol Geary Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). President Schneider presented a talk titled “Integrative Liberal Learning and the World Beyond College” to an audience of faculty and students.
Schneider began by touching upon a point previously discussed by Glotzbach and Crutcher: the definition of ‘liberal’ in a liberal arts education. “Majors are important,” said Schneider, “but it takes more than a major to make a liberally educated student.”
This sentiment has been reflected by employers in surveys conducted by AAC&U. The survey found that “93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.”
Overall, said Schneider, the world is demanding more from students, challenging them in two areas in particular: economics and civic or global challenges. Economically, employers not only want more employees in general, but also want employees to have a higher and broader skill set than was the case in previous generations. To solve problems, employers look for a 360-degree perspective, which means considering opinions from all disciplines, not just one specific field. Many employers also seek graduates who have been able to problem solve in diverse settings, skills that can be developed through internships or research with professors.
Schneider continued, “Liberal arts are far better positioned than any other institution to provide this kind of education. Now the question is, how can students achieve this vision?”
To answer this question, Schneider cited “high impact educational practices,” which include things like writing-intensive courses, first-year seminars and capstone courses and projects. The success and effectiveness of such practices have been well documented, and led to the coining of the phrase “integrative learning.”
“The more students are engaged, the more likely they are to finish college, which is why liberal arts institutions have higher graduation rates,” said Schneider. “Liberal arts take these practices for granted, but it’s your signature, it’s what makes liberal arts work,” she added.
Schneider also praised Wheaton’s Connections program, but also challenged the school and faculty to take those connections even further.
Schneider’s discussion connected to the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), an initiative launched by AAC&U in 2005, which provides a framework for an effective twenty-first century liberal education. Four key areas of the LEAP foundation for education are Essential Learning Outcomes, High-Impact Practices (mentioned above), Authentic Assessments and Inclusive Excellence. While discussing assessments, Schneider stressed that “assessment is not a synonym for test,” instead saying they should be opportunities for faculty to help students produce the best work they possibly can.
While this was the final Thought Leaders event of the semester, the series will continue next fall, when President of Swarthmore College, Rebecca Chopp, will speak.
For more information on AAC&U or the surveys they have commissioned, visit www.aacu.org.