Peer Review

From the Editor

For many years, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has advocated for all students to attain, what we have come to call, the Essential Learning Outcomes—a broad set of capabilities and perspectives needed to prepare them for the complexities of the twenty-first-century world. In College Learning for the New Global Century, AAC&U’s LEAP National Leadership Council contends that “the new economic reality is that narrow preparation in a single area…is exactly the opposite of what graduates need from college. Study-in-depth remains an important part of the overall pattern for college learning. But students deserve to know that focusing only on one specialty is far from enough.”

In this era when advertisements on television, in the newspapers, and on the sides of city buses proclaim that the guaranteed path to success is through narrow vocational studies, many institutions are, instead, going against that trend and taking their lead from what employers actually say they want—broadening their professional programs’ curricula in order to liberally educate all their students. And these are the type of graduates that employers are interested in hiring. AAC&U’s multiple surveys show that employers want “liberally educated professionals.” In a 2007 survey, 56 percent of business executives said that they recommend to students a balance of both a well-rounded education with broad knowledge and skills that apply to a variety of fields, and knowledge and skills in a specific field.

Editing this issue brought to mind my first lesson on how important and life changing a broad education can be—learned though the example of my parents’ courtship. When my mother and father met, she was beginning her sophomore year as an art student in Howard University’s liberal arts program and he was a senior in the school of engineering. After dating for a few months, my mother pronounced him “boring” because everything he talked about centered on engineering. She recommended that, to widen his perspective, he should enroll in elective literature and history classes in his last semester. He did as suggested and, with this knowledge, his conversational skills increased and a lifelong learner was born. Eventually he became a medical doctor, and my mother still attributes his ability to relate to and communicate so well with his family practice patients, who came from all walks of life, to his willingness to learn more about and engage the world beyond engineering.

While making intellectual connections beyond one’s chosen profession has always been important, in today’s world these outcomes are critical. This issue of Peer Review features best practices from a range of innovative programs that go beyond limited professional training to produce liberally educated professionals:

  • Through its signature WPI Plan, Worcester Polytechnic Institute engineering students “form a deep appreciation of the interrelationships among basic knowledge, technological advance, and human need.”
  • Duke University’s education program endeavors to “find ways to build on and integrate the liberal education experience that undergraduates bring with them to the teacher preparation program.”
  • Keene State College’s new nursing program—anchored in the liberal education mission of the college—prepares its graduates with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to “weather the storm changes in health care.”
  • Drake University requires all pharmacy students to fulfill the Drake Curriculum, a liberal education component that goes beyond standard pre-pharmacy prerequisites.
  • A Wartburg College study shows that business students who undertake complex assignments improve performance on multiple liberal education dimensions.

All articles in this issue provide multiple perspectives on the necessity of liberally educating our next generation of professionals. As Debra Humphreys expressed in Making the Case for Liberal Education, “All students need the knowledge, skills, and capacities developed by a liberal education. Today’s students are likely to change jobs and even careers several times over the course of their lives. If they pursue too narrow an undergraduate education, they will be unprepared for dealing with change—the predominant characteristic of today’s economy and tomorrow’s jobs.”

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