Liberal Education

The LEAP Employer-Educator Compact: Making Quality a Priority as Americans Go to College

Editor’s Note: Through the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, the Association of American Colleges and Universities seeks to engage employers with the value, goals, and best practices of a twenty-first-century liberal education; to publicize employers’ support for liberal education; and to encourage employer-educator partnerships that provide applied learning experiences for undergraduate students. In 2012, the LEAP Presidents’ Trust, a leadership group consisting of presidents from all sectors of higher education, initiated the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact, an effort to bring together college presidents and leading employers of college graduates in order to support the goals of the LEAP initiative. At a forum held in Washington, DC, on April 10, 2013, more than two hundred distinguished leaders in business, higher education, and the nonprofit sector came together to endorse the Employer-Educator Compact printed below.

As leaders of higher education institutions and of companies and organizations that employ college graduates, we are coming together in a compact to put the quality of college learning at the top of national, regional, state, and institutional agendas—for the benefit of our students, our economy, and our democracy. We are launching this LEAP Employer-Educator Compact because we are alarmed that, even as the world around us is changing dramatically, the United States is falling short in providing today’s students with the broad knowledge and high-level capacities that they will need both to navigate a fast-paced economy and to contribute to the future of our democracy.

Recently, public policy at all levels has focused with new intensity on college preparation, access, completion, and cost reduction—and we strongly support those commitments. But, as employers and educators, we know that too many students leave college still lacking crucial capacities that they—and society—urgently need.

The quality of student learning in college is fundamental to America’s future—and ensuring high-quality learning is the goal of this Employer-Educator Compact. Through this Compact, we are determined to focus with new intensity on

  1. the learning college students most need, both for the economy and for democracy;
  2. twenty-first-century designs for high-quality, hands-on learning that prepare students to deal with complexity, diversity, and change;
  3. the development of meaningful evidence about students’ actual achievement in college.

High-quality learning involves more than a major

Above and beyond what students learn in their major fields—chemists must know chemistry and engineers must know engineering—a high-quality college education for the twenty-first century also should emphasize

  • broad learning about science, society, technology, human diversity, and global cultures and interdependence;
  • intellectual skills that support evidence-based reasoning and innovation—including analysis, communication, critical and creative thinking, quantitative fluency, information literacy, and collaborative problem solving;
  • personal and social responsibility, including ethical reasoning, civic and democratic knowledge and engagement, global acumen, and the capacity to work productively with diverse people and perspectives;
  • integrative and adaptive learning, including the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to complex problems and new settings.

Preparing all students for success

The high-quality learning we seek is best described as a liberal—and liberating—education. In the twenty-first century, the hallmark capacities of a liberally educated graduate are important in every area of endeavor and indispensable to success in the economy. These forms of learning can and should be fostered in all colleges, universities, and community colleges, and across all areas of study, including career and technical fields, professional fields, and the liberal arts and sciences. Combined with strong in-depth study in a major field, high-level achievement in these cross-cutting areas of knowledge and skill is the best possible preparation both for the economy and for democracy.

Our shared commitments

We pledge to

  1. help Americans understand that the rising demands of a global workplace require that every college student acquire the hallmark outcomes of a twenty-first-century liberal education;
  2. ensure that all college students—whatever their chosen field of study or ambitions—have access to educational experiences that lead to achievement of the broad learning and intellectual skills they need for success;
  3. highlight, support, and expand twenty-first-century designs for high-quality, hands-on learning, including senior projects, undergraduate research, internships, global and community-based projects and experiences, and other experiential learning programs;
  4. prioritize and advance the dual mission for higher education to prepare students both for successful careers and for civic responsibility—providing them with the knowledge and skills required in a great democracy and as responsible employees;
  5. document national and institutional progress in helping all students achieve the learning they need—with particular attention to their ability to integrate and apply their learning to complex problems and projects.

Pursuing these shared goals together, we pledge to support programs that prepare students to deal with complexity and to speak out in one voice about making the quality of student learning the touchstone priority for public policy and institutional practice. We urge other college and university presidents and leaders in business, industry, and nonprofit organizations to join us in this Compact.

More about the Compact
On April 10, 2013, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) launched the Employer- Educator Compact during a forum held in Washington, DC. Several of the signatories to the compact spoke at the forum, and US Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter contributed her perspective on national priorities for higher education. In addition, AAC&U provided an overview of the findings from a new national survey of business and nonprofit leaders (see p. 22).

To respond to this article, e-mail liberaled@aacu.org, with the author’s name on the subject line.

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