Liberal Education

From the Editor

Creativity and innovation are at the heart of a contemporary liberal education, and both are central to the educational vision this association has been advancing through the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. The LEAP Principles of Excellence call on educators to “teach the arts of inquiry and innovation,” for example, and the set of LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, the cornerstone of that signature initiative, includes “creative thinking” among the intellectual and practical skills all students need to gain in order to prepare for twenty-first-century challenges.

Moreover, for nearly a decade now, AAC&U has regularly sponsored public opinion research to examine the extent to which college students, recent graduates, and employers are aware of the consensus among educators that the LEAP outcomes represent the contemporary standard for excellence in undergraduate education; whether they share educators’ belief that these particular outcomes are essential for success in professional, civic, and personal spheres; and how well they believe colleges and universities are doing in terms of helping students achieve those outcomes. The surveys have consistently shown that students, recent graduates, and employers share in the consensus that the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes represent the kind of learning today’s students need for success.

With respect to creativity and innovation, however, the surveys point to a need for greater emphasis on “the ability to be innovative and think creatively.” The first survey, published in 2006, found that 70 percent of employers and 54 percent of recent graduates believe that greater emphasis is needed. And the most recent survey, published just last year, found that while both students and employers regard “the ability to innovate and be creative” as a “very important” outcome of a college education (69 percent and 65 percent, respectively), there is a wide gap between the perception of each group when it comes to how well colleges and universities are currently doing in this area: 57 percent of college students say they are being well prepared, yet only 25 percent of employers agree.

The Featured Topic section of this issue takes up the challenge presented by those findings: how can higher education more effectively foster outcomes related to creativity and innovation? In the lead article, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro and Humera Fasihuddin describe the skills and mindsets they believe students need to develop while in college, regardless of “whether they join companies, become educators and researchers, get jobs in government or the nonprofit sector, or start their own ventures,” and present several compelling examples from their own work with student innovators. Based on their experience, they argue that, ultimately, a transformation of higher education is needed if it is truly to “prepare students to thrive in the complexity and ambiguity of the twenty-first century.”

In the second article, Fernando Lozano and Amanda Sabicer focus on the new demands today’s economy places on student preparation as the driving force behind higher education’s embrace of creativity and innovation. Drawing from their experience with innovative partnerships between higher education institutions and local community organizations, government, and industry that enable students to apply their learning in “real-world” situations, Lozano and Sabicer identify several key elements for fostering a “creative and innovative ecosystem.”

Taken together, these articles demonstrate how students can be helped to develop “creative thinking” and practice “the art of innovation,” and they suggest promising directions for changes in how undergraduate education is conducted—changes that, if implemented, could go a long way toward ensuring all students graduate with “the ability to innovate and be creative” that they and their future employers agree is essential to success in the twenty-first century.—DAVID TRITELLI

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