Liberal Education

From the Editor

At the 2014 annual meeting, the AAC&U community came together to ask and explore questions touching three interrelated themes signaled by the meeting’s title, “Quality, E-Quality, and Opportunity.” First, quality and the big questions: Can the meaning and quality of a degree be measured by how well college learning develops the essential capacities graduates will need to tackle the “big questions” of their generation? And can pathways through college be remapped to ensure that all students have continuous opportunities to apply their learning, with guidance from mentors, to significant problems and real-world challenges?

Second, e-quality and innovation: Notwithstanding the promise and allure of technology, is sufficient attention being paid to the vital connection between innovation and educational quality? Do technological innovations expand, rather than further limit, student engagement in research, field-based learning, creative projects, and other educational experiences that build high-level, twenty-first-century capacities? And third, inequality and the opportunity gap: Can educators and policy makers work in tandem to prevent the spread of a two-tiered, unequal system of higher education and, instead, prioritize making excellence inclusive? How can the current overemphasis on educational initiatives designed primarily to prepare students for their first jobs be resisted in favor of innovations that create long-term opportunity, strengthen students’ capacities, and reverse the most inequitable features of American higher education?

These themes were also taken up by this year’s recipients of the two major awards presented at the annual meeting. In his address on receiving the Ernest L. Boyer Award, which is given by the New American Colleges and Universities in recognition of achievement in higher education exemplifying Boyer’s quest to connect theory to practice and thought to action, Edward Ayers drew on his extensive work in the field of digital scholarship to explore the potential for a new and generative form of scholarship, one that is “built to generate, as it is used, new questions, evidence, conclusions, and audiences.” And in his address on receiving the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, which is given by AAC&U in recognition of an author’s outstanding contribution to the understanding and improvement of liberal education, José Antonio Bowen drew on his book Teaching Naked to discuss the use of new technologies to increase student preparation and engagement. Both addresses have been adapted for publication in this issue of Liberal Education.

The Featured Topic section below also carries two other highlights from this year’s annual meeting: Paul Gaston’s insightful overview of ongoing changes to the accreditation process, along with his recommendations for reforms that would be “responsive to the needs of the academy, sensitive to the interests of the public, and alert to the potential of the accreditation process itself,” and Betty Neal Crutcher’s compelling discussion of cross-cultural mentoring as a means to advance inclusive excellence in higher education.

Finally, reprinted here is the executive summary of the recently released second iteration of Lumina Foundation for Education’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP). The DQP, a postsecondary learning outcomes framework that specifies what students should be expected to know and be able to do at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s levels, was first introduced at AAC&U’s 2011 annual meeting. This year, along with developments related to AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise, or LEAP, initiative, the DQP was the subject of several annual meeting sessions that focused on educational quality.

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