by Elizabeth Beaulieu, huffingtonpost.com, November 10, 2010
When Elizabeth Beaulieu, the dean of the core division at Champlain College, recently watched an Extreme Sailing Series race, she saw it as a graceful metaphor for the type of education twenty-first century students really need. The sailors in the race responded quickly and accurately to changing conditions, each working effectively both as individuals and as members of the crew. Such superior navigational skills are exactly what Beaulieu and many educators like her want for their students, but the debate over the best way to gain such skills shows no clear frontrunner. There are advocates of professional education, who insist that preparation for a specific career, such as graphic designer or accountant, best serves young graduates. There are advocates for liberal education, who argue that a broad-based, general education provides the flexibility and the critical thinking skills to make graduates adaptable and employable in many fields. And there is the emerging argument that students need practical, “life” skills, like financial literacy, civic engagement, and professional network-building to succeed.
Beaulieu argues that accomplishing all these goals in four years is impossible, but that a framework for “a life of work, continuous learning, and civic responsibility should be the goal of all colleges and universities.” The key approach, then, she writes, is integration. “Life is interdisciplinary; so, too, should our requirements encourage students to make connections between and among the various things they encounter over four years, both inside and outside the classroom.” To prepare young citizens for a life in which they can take risks and remain calm under pressure, “we must offer a new model of education that emphasizes, in an equal way, practical workforce development, an open, inquiry-focused mindset, and practical life skills.”
Champlain College is a member of AAC&U’s Campus Action Network. The entire opinion column may be read online.