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General Education and Assessment:
New Contexts, New Cultures

February 23–25, 2012
Marriott, New Orleans

Conference Overview

The current pace of change across higher education is fast, and evidence suggests that it will continue to accelerate. Student populations are dynamic, faculty roles are in flux, and the frontiers of specialized knowledge continue to expand. Societal expectations of higher education shift in sometimes contradictory ways, with calls to increase the number of degrees awarded vying with demands to reduce public support and reign in tuitions. Similarly, critics insist on educational excellence even as they push for greater efficiency and savings of time and money. Such trends produce contexts far removed from those in which general education originally emerged. These new contexts require new thinking, new designs, new pedagogies, and new strategies for engagement in and assessment of general education. General education and assessment must also be flexible and inclusive enough to meet the needs of multiple cultures and creative enough to harness the full potential of diverse perspectives.

Consequently, in national efforts such as AAC&U’s LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes and the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Profile, as well as in hundreds of local, campus-based efforts, educators are asking fundamental questions related to these new contexts and cultures: What will an undergraduate degree really mean in a 21st century that is increasingly interconnected and globally interdependent?  What is the unique contribution of general education to the value of those degrees? And what kinds of designs and practices help all students meet their learning goals—especially those students who have been previously underserved?

Significant intellectual and financial resources are being invested in efforts to create more integrative, developmentally nuanced general education programs that move from a checklist approach toward a more intentional and coherent scaffolding of student learning goals and outcomes. New general education designs—horizontally and vertically integrated—increasingly feature high-impact practices that benefit all students. As conversations about assessment and accountability grow in sophistication, more authentic measurement of student capacities competes with the standard metric of the credit hour. The return on such investments, it is hoped, will be general education models and practices that enhance study in the majors and better prepare students for work, life, and citizenship in a democratic nation and a global society—a nation and a society in which the challenges of today are multi-faceted and the challenges of the future promise to be increasingly complex.

Educators from across the country are working to connect such outcomes and competencies to assessment of students’ actual work and to clearly articulated degree requirements. In the process, we are deepening collaborations among K-12 schools, community colleges, and 4-year institutions. Together, we are re-imagining general education to provide students opportunities to practice their skills, apply their knowledge to real-world issues that cross disciplines, explore their democratic and ethical responsibilities, test their own agency in shared endeavors, and recognize the value of diverse perspectives inside and outside the classroom.

Please join AAC&U to share and discuss this ambitious vision of general education for a global 21st century.

To further focus our work, the conference will follow four tracks:

  • Changing Students: Demographic Trends and General Education
  • Building Cultures of Faculty Engagement: Institutional Strategies
  • Building Cultures of Assessment: Improving Student Learning
  • Engaging Real-World Problems: General Education for a Global Century


Please contact the Development Office at (202) 884-7421 or e-mail for information about sponsorship opportunities for this conference.