As a University of Wisconsin System campus within the first designated "LEAP State," the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire) is fully committed to realizing the intent of the Association of American Colleges & Universities' (AAC&U) Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative. According to AAC&U, LEAP "champions the importance of a twenty-first-century liberal education—for individual students and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality."
As explained in the AAC&U communication "College Learning for the New Global Century" 2007), a twenty-first century liberal education is:
- ...a comprehensive set of aims and outcomes...that are essential for all students because they are important to all fields of endeavor. Today, in an economy that is dependent on innovation and global savvy, these outcomes have become the keys to economic vitality and individual opportunity. They are the foundations for American success in all fields from technology and the sciences to communications and the creative arts.
In order to guide students in building this foundation, the value of liberal education and the pursuit of the AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes must permeate our academic culture.
Students at UW-Eau Claire are introduced to the values of liberal education through participation in the newly launched Liberal Education Core, an outcomes-based program designed to provide them with experiences that develop knowledge, skills, responsibility, and the ability to integrate information and apply it across settings. Though UW-Eau Claire has made significant progress with the introduction of the Core, a number of challenges remain.
First, the Liberal Education Core cannot be a static entity. It must be regularly assessed and revised to insure that students are learning the knowledge, skills, and responsibilities critical to success in the social and professional world. We need to routinely evaluate the gap between the best curriculum we have been able to develop thus far in our liberal education transformation and the greatest fulfillment of LEAP intent we are ultimately capable of. The motion on liberal education passed by University Senate mandated that the program be reviewed every four years and " that the goal of these four-year reviews will be to assess the program's effectiveness and its impacts on students' time to degree, and to assess the status of faculty development and available resources with the aim of fully realizing the aspirational goals of our liberal education program." The Liberal Education Core was nearly a decade and a half in the making. Before that process, the general education program had remained largely unchanged for multiple decades; both the pace and frequency of this change are unacceptable. The University cannot afford a repeat of the last decade and a half; administration must step up and provide the inclusive leadership that ensures ongoing evaluation and refinement of the Liberal Education Core. This type of oversight does not make the process top-down but simply ensures executive sponsorship and engagement with the process. The review process must allow for participation but also allow for efficient action to maintain a relevant and effective core curriculum.
Second, because of the pace at which courses needed to be converted from the general education program to the liberal education program in order to assure sufficient seats to launch the program, faculty and instructional academic staff inadvertently may have been encouraged to revise existing courses only slightly to satisfy the proposal requirements rather than truly moving to an outcomes-based model of course design and delivery. Academic programs should evaluate the relationship between and within courses used to meet liberal education learning outcomes and those designed as introductory courses for majors. A true transition to outcomes-based liberal education will require further faculty and instructional academic staff effort and support.
Third, although the Liberal Education Core works to help all students meet an initial level of achievement in the Liberal Education Learning Outcomes, the values and outcomes of liberal education must permeate the entire curriculum. As AAC&U summarizes in "College Learning for the New Global Century" (2007):
...the essential aims and outcomes [must] be emphasized across every field of college study, whether the field is conventionally considered one of the arts and sciences disciplines, whether it is one of the professional and technical fields (business, engineering, education, health, the performing arts, etc.) in which the majority of college students currently major.
Fourth, the current economic and political environment continually offers challenges to the value of liberal education. Students and prospective students must be provided with evidence that helps them view liberal education as an opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, responsibilities, and ability to integrate information and apply it across settings in ways that lead to their success in social and professional life.
As a UW System campus within the first designated "LEAP State," UW-Eau Claire is committed to fully realizing the intent of the AAC&U LEAP initiative. We need to routinely evaluate the gap the between the best curriculum we have been able to develop thus far in our liberal education transformation, vs. the greatest fulfillment of LEAP intent we are ultimately capable of. In particular, we need to critically and honestly evaluate the success of our LE Core, as well as our major programs of study, with regard to full implementation of the AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes.
Priorities + actions: Liberal education
Reconstitute the Liberal Education Core Administrative Steering Group–a joint faculty-administrator council to evaluate the Liberal Education Core and make recommendations to shared governance.
- Establish 9-member council comprised of the Provost, one additional administrator from Academic Affairs selected by the Provost, the chair of the Academic Policies Committee, the chair of the University Liberal Education Committee, the chair of University Senate, and one faculty member from each college. Faculty members will be appointed by the Provost in consultation with the deans.
- Empower the Liberal Education Core Administrative Steering Group to routinely review the Core and recommend revisions as needed to adapt to changing societal and professional needs.
Evaluate and revise the Liberal Education Core in 2019 and regularly after that to improve student learning and operational effectiveness.
- Evaluate the learning outcomes and revise as needed to adapt to changing needs.
- Review the number of experiences required in the Core.
- Review rubrics used to evaluate liberal education outcomes.
- Evaluate experiences used to meet the outcomes, including the use of data on student learning.
- Review the impact of the Core on outcomes such as retention, four-year graduation rate, and closing the equity gap.
Provide regular and predictable access for students to sufficient seats in Core courses to keep them on track for timely completion of their degrees.
- Align course demand and seat availability.
- Gather and communicate seat availability data on a regular basis.
- Analyze data from the Student Success Collaborative Campus software to anticipate future course availability needs.
Offer more extracurricular and co-curricular experiences to meet Liberal Education Core Learning Outcomes.
- Develop clear guidelines for inclusion of non-course experiences in the Core.
- Review Core rubrics for relevance to experience-based learning and revise as needed.
- Encourage applications for non-course experiences such as living-learning communities, performances, forensics, sales competitions, internships, and student leadership.
Strengthen the connections between the Liberal Education Core and academic majors and programs.
- Provide faculty and instructional academic staff with professional development opportunities focused on outcomes-based curriculum development and outcomes-based teaching and learning.
- Share AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes with faculty and instructional academic staff and discuss the importance of extending liberal education beyond the Core.
- Evaluate all curricular changes for opportunities to infuse the values and outcomes associated with liberal education in all aspects of UW-Eau Claire curriculum.
- Use outcome-based teaching practices in the Core and in academic majors and programs.
- Support continuing development of students' understanding of the Liberal Education Learning Outcomes throughout academic programs and majors.
Establish liberal education in general, and the Liberal Education Core in particular, as valuable and defining elements of a UW-Eau Claire degree.
- Design and implement a communication plan consistent with the UW-Eau Claire brand that creates a strong and distinct identity for the Core as a program of experiences that are attractive to students, distinguish UW-Eau Claire graduates from others, and are valued by employers and society.
- Develop messages that clearly and consistently reinforce both the economic value and the civic value of liberal education.
- Develop messages to be used throughout the Core and academic programs that demonstrate for students the value of liberal education and gives them language to communicate its value to potential employers and others.