The Future of Gen Ed Recap, Part 4

The Future of Gen Ed Recap, Part 4 November 11, 2019

Let me start this post with a quote from a recent Bloomberg article:

Recent research suggests that contrary to the popular idea that majoring in art or literature is a route to personal penury and a contributor to industrial decline, there are actually plenty of science majors, except among low-income students. Moreover, while newly minted graduates with science and technical degrees enjoy a salary premium over their classmates in the humanities, that premium fades over time, in part because technological skills become obsolete faster. Liberal arts majors, by contrast, trained to be creative communicators and critical thinkers, are more adaptable.

There was also a really interesting article on what the liberal arts offers to underrepresented students. George Kuh touched on that same topic when he wrote:

We’ve known for many decades that there are no short cuts to cultivating the habits of the mind and heart that, over time, enable people to deepen their learning, develop resilience, transfer information into action, and creatively juggle and evaluate competing ideas and approaches. These are the kinds of proficiencies and dispositions needed to discover alternative responses to challenges presented by the changing nature of today’s jobs or for work not yet invented. Workplaces, societal institutions, and the world order are only going to get more complicated and challenging to navigate and manage, increasing the need for people with accumulated wisdom, interpersonal and practical competence, and more than a splash of critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and altruism.

Intentionally shortening and fragmenting educational and personal development in the name of bolstering economic productivity now is shortsighted and does a catastrophic disservice to individuals, our national prosperity, and the long-term well-being of a civil, democratic society. What’s also troubling is the likelihood that learners from historically underserved groups — low income and ethnic minorities, for example — will be disproportionately represented among (or maybe even tracked into) short-term training programs.

See too the piece on enhancing students’ perception of the relevance of the liberal arts, another on universities focusing on their central educational mission rather than on marketing themselves to those who do not embrace it, as well as these:

Teach Them Where They’re Not: The Very Idea(s) of General Education

Economists Make the Case for More History Majors:

Enthused about UVA’s Approach to Gen Ed

Mary Papazian wrote:

As educators, we need to provide our students with life skills such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking – the foundation of a liberal arts education.

Successful tech leaders get it. They are hiring more and more humanities and social science majors because their sales teams must be experts on human relationships, their marketers must understand their customers and their managers must be capable of building strong and ethical cultures.

Now, on with the ongoing recap of the day-conference on gen ed. The next session was a “Collection of Ideas and Proposals About Gen Ed.” In it Pam Eddinger, president at Bunker Hill Community College, said that they “blew up” their gen ed, and would be implementing their innovations the next week. The president asked the provost where their institutional learning outcomes are. The provost there said he would go work on it. He came back with: inquire with intention, communicate with purpose, grow by doing continuing education. As they pursued this (with an accreditation review very much in their minds) they got rid of the older discipline-based, course-based, class-based philosophy of gen ed. Once again I was happy to see others headings in new and innovative directions…that Butler University was headed a decade ago! They discovered that at that time, no one was measuring anything. I’m happy to say that Butler, even if it did initially jump on the assessment hamster wheel before everyone got the ultimate purpose of assessment, has at least of late been engaging in meaningful efforts to measure what we accomplish, with the concrete goal of improvement.

The point was made that community colleges are crucial to gen ed. Many have a tendency to think of gen ed in terms that separate or at least distinguish liberal arts from career readiness. But they are inherently interwoven. Everyone needs to be exploring research and community, and practicing scientific, creative, quantitative, and other approaches. Assessment can unveil not only shortcomings, but things that are happening but not appreciated. There chemists and culinary programs each thought they did not do things that they in fact do. It is important to be inclusive as we talk about professional education. Our colleagues at community colleges are intellectuals!

I’m still not done with the recap. This was such a rich and rewarding event to attend, and I continue to reap the benefits as I work to foster creative new directions in the core curriculum at my own institution. More will follow!

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