University Illusions and the Liberal Arts

Responding to Kevin Carey.

July 28, 2015
 “The illusory university pretends that all professors are guided by a shared sense of educational excellence specific to their institution”. 
From Kevin Carey’s NYTimes Upshot piece - The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion.
Kevin should spend more time hanging at liberal arts schools. He might just change his mind about the illusory university.
The idea that those of us in postsecondary liberal arts education lack a shared set of values runs counter to the daily reality of life at a liberal arts focused college or university. In the liberal arts we are absolutely clear about our core values, and the educational environment that is most conducive to reaching our overall goals.
This is not to say that the methods at every liberal arts institution are the same. Every liberal arts school values the development in our students of leadership abilities, critical thinking skills, and the ability to utilize evidence to evaluate arguments. We will all seek to encourage habits of mind that lead to independent thinking, a love of learning, and a tolerance for uncomfortable and challenging ideas. 
The diversity in approaches to reach the core aims of a liberal arts education actually represent a strength of our postsecondary system, not a weakness.  
The real higher story that I hope Kevin Carey, and other postsecondary thought leaders discover, is this:
Our Confidence in the Value of a Liberal Arts Education:
Conventional wisdom says that higher ed is in crisis. Costs are too high Students are not learning.  
When it comes to liberal arts schools, the conventional wisdom is dead wrong. 
Our current liberal arts graduates are thriving. Our future graduates will do even better. 
In a globalized labor market characterized by ever increasing substitution of technology for labor, the creative and analytical skills of the liberal arts graduate will be prized above all others.  
Visit a liberal arts focused institution and you will find a strong degree of confidence in our core mission. We understand that a quality education is best realized in an environment of motivated students learning from skilled and experienced educators. We understand that quality education does not scale, as higher order learning is fundamentally a relational process that requires mentoring and guidance.  
This is not to say that we are complacent, believing that the best path forward is a maintenance of the postsecondary status quo. A belief in the power of progress is in fact one of the core values of the liberal arts. 
The Story of How the Liberal Arts Education is Evolving:
How are colleges and universities are changing is the of the most important stories of our time. For some reason, however, this story is not very well understood or discussed outside of those of us in the business.
Nowhere is the higher ed change story more compelling, or more positive, than in the liberal arts. 
Our strong commitment to our core value that learning best happens in the context of a strong relationship between and educator and a student has enabled us to leverage new methods and new technologies to remove barriers to that educator/learner relationship. 
Our belief in the value of an education that teaches are students how to learn has pushed us to develop pedagogical methodologies that privilege active and experiential learning, rather than passive consumption and repetition of information.  
Visit any liberal arts campus and you will see an evolution of the introductory courses that has pushed them more in the direction of the learning interactions found in upper division seminars.  There has been a huge, and mostly unremarked upon, quality improvement in the first two years of college at a great number of our schools. It is our liberal arts institutions that are leading this change.
Kevin, please consider yourself invited to my liberal arts campus. You may be surprised, and heartened, by what you will find.
How is your liberal arts institution evolving?


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