Liberal Education

From the Editor

On hearing the word "vocation" used in the context of American higher education today, many may think first of the sort of occupation for which narrow technical training is required or perhaps more broadly of an unwelcome “vocationalization” of undergraduate programs. Those who don’t, who think instead of vocation as a calling to wholeness and of promising applications of this concept as a framework for undergraduate liberal education, likely have in mind the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV).

From 1999 to 2002, the Lilly Endowment provided funding to a total of eighty-eight colleges and universities that, both singly and in ongoing conversation together, sought after ways to reconceive of college as a means for exploring purpose and vocation. Through the resulting programs, campuses developed an enriched understanding of undergraduate education as involving the student in a process of discovery that is oriented toward flourishing, a process to which both faculty and staff can make invaluable contributions and for which moral, religious, and spiritual traditions can offer invaluable resources and support. What, the PTEV schools asked, does it mean to have a vocation in life, and how can the college experience help students discover theirs?

In this special issue of Liberal Education, the Featured Topic section is focused on the many achievements and the lasting legacy of PTEV. Both the initiative itself and this issue’s coverage of it are introduced in the lead article by Shirley Roels, who directed the PTEV project at Calvin College and now serves as senior advisor to the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, or NetVUE, a widening circle of colleges and universities carrying the PTEV work forward. In the second article, Tim Clydesdale presents findings from his national evaluation of the PTEV initiative. Next, Bill Sullivan presents core educational practices associated with PTEV and gives some examples. Finally, through three case studies, Molly Sutphen shows how the theological exploration of vocation can be conducted in disparate institutional contexts.

I want particularly to thank Bill Sullivan, who served as editorial advisor for this special issue of Liberal Education. It’s thanks to Bill's work with his fellow contributors that the overview of PTEV presented here is as compelling and, indeed, coherent as it is. Sincere thanks also to the Lilly Endowment for its generous support for this issue and to Chris Coble, vice president for religion at Lilly, for his support and encouragement.

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