Carol Geary Schneider, Retiring President of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, Interview – Discusses Liberal Education, Quality, and Activity-Based Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

Carol Geary Schneider, who is retiring as President of the Association of American Colleges & Universities after 18 years of service, gave an interview to The Chronicle of Higher Education, during which she discussed the importance of liberal education but also the need for quality and activity-based learning.  Here is an excerpt:

“I think the most important thing is that we actually have clarity about what we mean by liberal education. AAC&U’s actual mission is advancing liberal education and inclusive excellence. Everybody loves the term “inclusive excellence.” I hear policy leaders using it all the time. I wonder if they’ve thought hard about what it means.

I don’t think you can have inclusive excellence unless you have some specificity about what you mean by the excellence, and are working hard to ensure that the curriculum is well-designed so that students with different interests, different backgrounds, different levels of preparation are being guided to the kind of learning they actually need. So an institution should have clear goals for the kind of big-picture learning students need – the broad learning in the liberal arts and sciences, clarity about intellectual skills, clarity about the kinds of practices that students ought to engage in, like research, like service, like project-based learning, collaborative learning. And they ought to have clarity that these things are well-designed into the curriculum.

And all of it ought to be explained to the students before they apply, when they arrive, as they are in their first-year programs, as they move forward in both general education and the major. We think that one of the most important things for a 21st-century liberal education is to have clear connections between students’ majors, whatever they are, and that broad learning so that students have the opportunities to rehearse putting their questions, their interests, their concerns – let’s say they’re going into health work. They may think of themselves as learning how to be a nurse, for example. Well, the nurse is operating in a very, very complicated social and cultural environment, political environment. So you need to connect that broad learning in the liberal arts and sciences to the particular things a student will do as a nurse…

…the notion that liberal education doesn’t belong just to selected disciplines. It really should be a goal for every discipline, for the professional fields, for the career and technical fields. This conversation you’re writing about in the recent issue of The Chronicle about should we really invest in career and technical education, as though that is somehow separate from liberal education, is an outdated way of thinking about it.

We need to make sure that we have broadly educated career and technical people. They need to understand the world they’re part of just as much as anybody else. So we need new designs.

But the point is, we have the framework now for the learning. We have a lot of evidence on practices that actually work and have a two-fer benefit. High-impact practices is the term people are using now. And we didn’t have that term in 1998.

But now we have evidence that the more students are doing – research, projects, writing-intensive activities, e-portfolios, service learning, things that connect actual problems with the academic learning. The more they do that, the more they’re likely to persist in college, and the more they’re likely to actually achieve the kind of learning that is described in these big frameworks – the big picture, the strong intellectual skills, a sense of responsibility for how knowledge is used, and the ability to apply knowledge to real problems.”

Good insights and advice for what we need to be doing more of in higher education.



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