Advocacy for Liberal Education

AAC&U champions the economic and civic value of liberal education, its relevance to students’ career aspirations, and its essential role in equipping students for lifelong learning, civic involvement, and personal flourishing. 

A Vision of Educational Excellence Grounded in Equity and Inclusion

The vision of educational excellence AAC&U works to advance is grounded in equity and inclusion. This vision is presented in full in What Liberal Education Looks Like: What It Is, Who It’s For, and Where It Happens. In distilling the principles, practices, and contemporary challenges of liberal education, this signature AAC&U publication clearly describes the learning all students need for success in an uncertain future and for addressing the compelling issues we face as a democracy and as a global community—regardless of where they study, what they major in, or what their career goals are.

AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella announces the release of What Liberal Education Looks Like.

What Is Liberal Education?

Liberal education is an approach to undergraduate education that promotes integration of learning across the curriculum and cocurriculum, and between academic and experiential learning, in order to develop specific learning outcomes that are essential for work, citizenship, and life.

Commonly Confused Terms

The “liberal arts” are a specific set of disciplines (the humanities, the arts, and the natural and social sciences). “Liberal arts education” is an education grounded in the liberal arts. A “liberal arts college” is a type of higher education institution whose curriculum is designed to provide a liberal arts education. A “liberal education” includes study of the liberal arts and is the approach undertaken at most liberal arts colleges, but it is not exclusive to those disciplines or that institutional type. 

Key Components of a Contemporary Liberal Education

  • Essential Learning Outcomes: a framework that defines the knowledge and skills required for success in work, citizenship, and life and that can be used to guide students' cumulative progress through college.
  • High-Impact Practices: specific teaching and learning practices that have been widely tested and shown to be beneficial for all students, including and especially those from demographic groups historically underserved by higher education.  
  • Signature Work: an inquiry-based exploration of a significant problem that the individual student identifies and defines, that is conducted over the course of at least one semester, and that involves substantial writing and reflection.
  • Authentic Assessment: an approach to learning outcomes assessment that uses rubrics to evaluate the work students produce across their diverse learning pathways and whose results inform efforts to promote student success.


President Lynn Pasquerella presents the AAC&U vision of liberal education in her keynote address to the 2020 Institute on General Education and Assessment.


Employer Research

Through an ongoing series of employer surveys, AAC&U explores and documents the views of business executives and hiring managers on the relevance of liberal education as preparation for the workplaces of today and tomorrow and for success in the global economy.


Since the association was founded in 1915, our mission has centered on liberal education. In the decade leading up to our centennial anniversary in 2015, AAC&U developed a comprehensive framework for liberal education through a decade-long initiative titled Liberal Education and American’s Promise, or LEAP. Our current vision of liberal education, and our efforts to advance it through public advocacy and through our work with colleges and universities of all types, builds on the LEAP framework as liberal education continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of our students, our economy, and our democracy.