search articles: 

   from the issue of October 13, 2005

Speaker outlines methods to enhance collegiate general education programs


Liberal education in the 21st century asks far more of faculty and expects more from students than in the past, according to the leader of a national group focused on undergraduate education.

In a talk to faculty Oct. 6, Carol Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, said students view general education as a set of courses that do not pertain to majors and as hoops to jump through on the road to graduation. That disconnect occurs, Schneider said, because institutions fail to help students understand the value of a liberal education.

AACU defines liberal education as "a philosophy of education that aims to empower individuals, liberate the mind from ignorance, and cultivate social responsibility." General education is the part of a liberal education curriculum shared by all students, according to AACU. It provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and forms the basis for developing important intellectual and civic capacities.

The friction occurs because students rank the broad goals and desired outcomes of liberal education - particularly the issues regarding preparation for citizenship and social responsibility - dead last among their desired college outcomes, she said. Students say they want to learn work skills like time management, not fuzzy things like ethics, cultural respect, global awareness and public service.

Faculty, however, often rank these as highly valued outcomes.

Employers, she said, have yet another set of desires for college graduates. They particularly prize communication skills, analytical thinking, teamwork and problem solving and the capacity to integrate learning from diverse contexts and adapt knowledge to new settings.

Schneider suggested that what were once desirable intellectual skills are now practical, required skills of all graduates.

How do colleges respond? Schneider outlined a set of "intentional campus practices" that institutions should consider as they look at revising or adopting liberal education requirements.

Among those practices:

• A comprehensive vision for student learning as defined by the faculty.

• Setting goals across the curriculum, not just for first- or second-year courses or students. This is particularly important when four-year colleges enroll a lot of transfer students who join the institution as juniors.

• Shared responsibility for goals between the general education program and departments.

• A well-designed, vertically organized general education curriculum.

• Progressively more demanding expectations and intellectual tasks.

• Progressively more challenging connections between learning and society. (This helps students understand "what's the point" of taking this course, she said.)

• Tying assessment to cornerstone, milestone and capstone courses. Some institutions tie these courses to service-learning opportunities, she noted.

• Ongoing forums for faculty and staff intellectual leadership and the ability to make curricular changes as needed to help students achieve.

Schneider said the institutions with the most successful liberal/general curricula are the ones whose faculty are the most engaged in the process and who feel they also achieve intellectual growth from teaching the curricula.

UNL is beginning a two-year effort to revise its general education program. Schneider's visit was coordinated by the office of the senior vice chancellor as part of that process.

For more information on the American Association of Colleges and Universities, visit



Alumnus vies to protect UNL network
NU Values program takes shape
Workshops offer tech lessons to faculty
Lecture explores nutrition, genes, health
Speaker outlines methods to enhance collegiate general education programs
World-renowned mathematician to offer public lecture Oct. 21