Peer Review, Fall 2004
From the Editor
This issue of Peer Review was planned in concert with AAC&U's
upcoming Network for Academic Renewal meeting "General
Education and Assessment: Creating Shared Responsibility for
Learning Across the Curriculum," which will be held
in February. The tracks for that meeting are organized around
a particular set of questions about the aims of general education;
the assessment of student gains in learning; signature programs;
engagement and leadership; and shared ownership and responsibility.
The articles in this issue also explore these questions, and
we hope the issue will serve as a useful complement.
The larger theme of creating shared responsibility across
the curriculum is rooted not just in the upcoming meeting
or a single issue of Peer Review, however. It is
also key to several recommendations in AAC&U's 2002
report, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning
as a Nation Goes to College. That report describes liberal
education outcomes that are important for all college students,
regardless of their area of specialization. The importance
of these outcomes--and of the larger vision of a New
Academy founded upon their achievement--derives, in part,
from their practicality; they reflect the multiple kinds of
learning graduates actually will use in discharging their
responsibilities as citizens of a diverse and globally-interconnected
democracy; as active participants in a dynamic, knowledge-based
economy; as lifelong learners seeking after personal fulfillment.
The report makes clear that achieving these outcomes for all
students will depend on multiple stakeholders taking shared
responsibility for this new vision for learning.
While this will not be easy, the good news is that there
is widespread consensus about the importance of these learning
goals. Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate
Degree, a recent report from the Greater Expectations
Project on Accreditation and Assessment, documents this emerging
consensus among accreditors and other higher education leaders
about the liberal learning outcomes essential for all college
students. Moreover, through the Presidents' Campaign
for the Advancement of Liberal Learning (CALL), sponsored
by AAC&U, more than 525 college and university presidents
have exhorted their "colleagues around the country to
ensure that every college student experiences the full benefits
of a twenty-first century liberal education." In endorsing
the Greater Expectations vision, the Presidents'
CALL provides further evidence of consensus about the kind
of learning all students need now: "The approach to
higher learning that best serves individuals, our globally
engaged democracy, and an innovating economy is liberal education.
Liberal education comes in many shapes and forms in the contemporary
academy, but in every one of those forms, its aims include:
developing intellectual and ethical judgment; expanding cultural,
societal and scientific horizons; cultivating democratic and
global knowledge and engagement; and preparation for work
in a dynamic and rapidly evolving economy."
The Greater Expectations report heralds the advent
of a New Academy animated by this remarkable unity of purpose.
In itself, however, the academy's corporate commitment
to providing all students with such a practical liberal education--while
of doubtless significance--would not ensure success. This
commitment must be articulated through the diversity of institutional
types and missions characteristic of American higher education.
In striving to meet these greater expectations, individual
institutions confront several challenges. Because complex
liberal learning outcomes must be developed across the curriculum,
creating curricular coherence is chief among these challenges.
Hence, a key recommendation made in the Greater Expectations
report: college curricula ought to integrate general education
and study in the major, including preprofessional programs.
Campus leaders must work to create a shared sense of responsibility
for achieving student learning goals, and they must distribute
responsibility for assessing that achievement.
They must, for example, work to consolidate the gains already
made through a range of successful innovations--from
learning communities to capstone experiences, from freshman
seminars to service-learning projects. This involves working
to ensure a coherent educational experience for all students
through purposeful integration. In short, institutions must
not allow successful innovations to languish at the margins
of the academy, thus effectively restricting access to the
powerful forms of learning achieved through these innovative
AAC&U works with colleges and universities across the
country as they undertake reform efforts to enact the vision
of the New Academy in institution-specific ways, in ways that
simultaneously respect the diversity of mission and build
on the cross-institutional commitment to the broad goals of
liberal education. Because it is focused on outcomes rather
than on disciplines, and because it draws from the perspectives
of a range of stakeholders, the Greater Expectations
framework is an especially useful resource for campuses at
various stages of reform. It is our hope that this issue of
Peer Review will be used similarly to enable and
advance discussions about the aims, purposes, and best practices
of a twenty-first century liberal education.