In January 2005, with the generous grant support of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, ACS initiated its New Models Program in the three critical and challenged areas of Interdisciplinary Opportunities, Undergraduate Research & Engagement, and Diversity. The ACS Presidents and chief academic officers identified these three areas as being pivotal in fulfilling the missions of our member institutions to provide a quality liberal arts education to their students. And cooperation through ACS channels was deemed a vital and a cost efficient mechanism to respond to these needs.
Because of their primary mission to prepare students to be responsible global citizens, liberal arts colleges find themselves continually revisiting two questions, (1) “Given a rapidly changing world, what kind of education is required to fulfill this mission?” and (2) “How do we go about providing the education needed?” Answers to the first question spring out of five practices that generally are accepted to be the types of learning and skills that distinguish a liberal arts education from other types of learning:
While answers to the second question, “How do we provide the education needed,” are more difficult to formulate and to agree upon, their foundation is based upon a number of factors, including campus history, institutional culture, current student culture, and resources. Additionally, the answers must take into consideration that curricular and extra-curricular experiences and campus practices and policies need to be designed intentionally to facilitate the desired educational experience. Fulfilling the institutional mission and achieving a coherent student experience requires the inclusion of faculty, staff, administrators, and students in the search for answers.
Historically, the very structure of colleges and the universities, regardless of size, hinders the kind of dialogue that is needed. Traditionally, knowledge is divided into disciplines, which creates a “sociology of specialization” within postsecondary institutions. The primary if not the sole intellectual reference group of most faculty members tends to be their own disciplinary departments. By their very nature, these disciplinary communities typically do not reach out to foster ongoing, interdisciplinary conversations. The result is that the very structure of the educational system itself creates an incongruence with the institution’s mission to prepare students to be responsible global citizens. The real world is not divided into neat categories. Rather, history, politics, economics, religion, literature, the arts, chemistry, psychology, physics, and geography, for example, co-mingle and impact every aspect of life. There is a need to help faculty members think beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, so they, in turn, can help students do the same, even in non-interdisciplinary courses.
Not all of the challenges are embedded in the institutional organization and structure. Current research reveals that today’s students and those who will be in college for the next 10-15 years, known as Millennial Learners, differ in significant ways from students who attended college just a few years ago. For example, in the 1970s, students exhibited what researchers call a “producer mentality,” meaning that these students knew that a satisfactory grade was received only when quality work was produced. This is in contrast to many of today’s Millennial Learners who come to the higher education experience with what is described as a consumer attitude. Generally, this means that the Millennial Learner is more concerned with the product of the higher education experience (the degree) than they are concerned with the process of earning the degree. The value of obtaining a broad-based liberal arts education is not as important as “buying” what they consider to be the “brass ring” of economic success.
Nor do Millennial Learners, often referred to as “bottom-line” learners, typically exhibit the “love of learning” that generally characterized students of 30 or so years ago. Many of today’s students do not seem all that taken with the thrill of discovery. Furthermore, unlike the majority of students in earlier decades, a significant number of current students, even in smaller liberal arts colleges, have multiple jobs that compete with study time. And, as products of an “instant age,” Millennial Learners tend to prefer what has been termed “heat and eat” packages of knowledge that they can take with them to their next activity or job. Technological advances, particularly with regard to internet access, feed many Millennial Learners’ beliefs that information, research, and a degree can be acquired in very short order with the push of a button or click of a mouse.
Additional characteristics of the Millennial Learners that tend to affect their attitudes and expectations about the higher education experience and acquisition of a degree include (1) impatience; (2) social habits that lead to missed classes and falling behind in coursework; (3) deficiencies in study skills, comprehension and retention of reading material; and (4) mental disengagement with material that bores them or they see as unnecessary. It appears that engagement of the learner is more critical than it has ever been before to student learning, retention, and fulfillment of the liberal arts mission.
These findings are particularly relevant to the smaller liberal arts colleges, like those that are members of the ACS, and support the identified need of the ACS member institutions to address issues of interdisciplinary opportunities, engagement and research, and diversity. Because of their mission and consortial relationship, the ACS liberal arts colleges are in a unique position to design the higher education experience in such a way as to showcase the interconnectedness of disciplines and craft learning opportunities that produce well rounded individuals who understand disciplinary interrelationships, who know how to find and use information, who can think critically, who respect differences, and who are capable of sharing intellectual leadership.
Furthermore, the ACS recognizes that if these crucial areas are to be addressed effectively, there is a need for purposeful creativity that brings together many different persons into the collaborative work of answering the question, “How do we provide the kind of education needed to fulfill the mission and purpose of the liberal arts education?”
Whatever activities may be undertaken through this New Models Grant, all are designed to enhance the teaching and learning environment and to strengthen the liberal arts mission of our ACS institutions.
If you cannot find the information you want, or would like additional information on the New Models Initiative or any of its components, contact email@example.com.
|This page updated on 8/6/08|
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