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From the Editor
Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
—Daniel J. Boorstin
The title of a popular guide for first-year students published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) asks a question that has beleaguered general education advocates for years: Why Do I Have to Take This Course? In that publication, author Robert Shoenberg presents a clear case for curricular requirements and educates students about the broad learning outcomes developed in the major and general education courses during their undergraduate years. Shoenberg writes that general education requirements are not “hurdles to jump over or courses to be gotten out of the way, but rather the educational journey of a lifetime, the base on which to build a life as well as earn a living.” To paraphrase the above epigraph, general education helps students discover academic passions about which they didn’t know they were passionate.
General education has long been an important area of work for AAC&U. Much of this work is done in the Office of Quality, Curriculum, and Assessment, led by Vice President Terrel Rhodes, who offered guidance for this issue by identifying authors and provided support throughout the journal’s production. AAC&U’s general education initiatives aim to ensure that every undergraduate student experiences a relevant and challenging general education curriculum. To further this goal, AAC&U’s recent General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) initiative developed a set of principles—proficiency, agency and self-direction, integrative learning and problem-based inquiry, equity, and transparency and assessment—that, when incorporated into general education programs, can empower all students to develop their capacities through meaningful problem-based work as part of an intentional, coherent, engaging, and integrated educational experience. The GEMs principles are designed so that the next generation of general education programs will strengthen and integrate students’ broad learning across the liberal arts and sciences by connecting general education to big questions in society and to students’ major fields.
This issue of Peer Review features articles written by faculty of and participants in AAC&U’s Institute on General Education and Assessment (IGEA). That intensive summer workshop provides campus teams with opportunities to refine and advance general education programs and their assessment and build a campus learning culture that supports the GEMs principles. In this issue’s Analysis article, Loraine Phillips shares her experience working in statewide general education reform while actively participating in AAC&U’s LEAP States, Faculty Collaboratives, and interinstitutional assessment projects. The Practice section features reflections from five campus teams—St. Cloud State University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Longwood University, California State University−Channel Islands, and the University of Rhode Island—on general education plans that were developed at IGEA. Ashley Finley and Erin Horan’s Research article examines a range of campus action plans developed at IGEA and their execution and themes. Finally, Paul Hanstedt’s Reality Check piece ponders the right and wrong turns educators can take when implementing general education reforms. From the first to the last, these articles underscore the message of this issue’s cover line: general education matters.
Also on the cover is Dave Cutler’s inspired artwork that depicts a group of students, propelled by sails that represent the five GEMs principles, gliding toward a lifetime of educational exploration. No matter their major, students' liberal education experiences will be key to their future achievements. As AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella wrote in her recent Inside Higher Ed article, “Fulfilling the promise of American higher education requires a curriculum that emphasizes essential learning outcomes as necessary for all students’ intellectual, civic, personal and professional development and success.”