Liberal Education

One Hundred Years!

In 2015, AAC&U will celebrate its centennial. To mark this milestone, and in the service of the nation’s diverse college learners, AAC&U will devote the entire centennial year to a far-reaching exploration of the connections between high-quality liberal learning and Americans’ global future and of the changes needed to drive equitable access to high-quality learning for the millions of students who remain underserved at all levels of our educational system.

This year of exploration will begin at our one hundredth annual meeting, “Liberal Education, Global Flourishing, and the Equity Imperative,” which will examine the multiple meanings of “global flourishing” for individuals and for our society as a whole. In partnership with the entire higher education community—private, public, large, small, open-access and selective, two-year and four-year institutions—annual meeting sessions will explore the kinds of learning, combining high touch and high tech, that Americans need now to engage, contribute, and thrive in their own pursuits of happiness, as participants in a fast-changing global economy, and as citizens whose choices will affect the future of both US democracy and global interdependence.

Across the entire centennial year, we will probe higher education’s role in engaging students with the world’s “grand challenges” and “wicked problems” and in helping create a more just and sustainable future for the United States and for societies around the globe. We will turn a searching spotlight on the deep disparities that still disfigure both higher education and US democracy, not just in terms of who goes to college, but also in terms of highly stratified access to the most empowering forms of college learning.

Together, we will connect the equity imperative to the US talent-development imperative, and explore both “what works” and how to advance what works in order to better prepare twenty-first-century students for work, life, and citizenship. With digital experimentation expanding daily, we’ll study these innovation hubs for ways that e-learning can help us fulfill the promise of an empowering education for “traditional” and “new majority” students alike.

And, acknowledging both AAC&U’s recently expanded mission (see sidebar) and the highly contested environment in which educators now work to foster high-quality learning, we will focus on both the societal value—economic, civic, personal—and the future of liberal education. Together, we will seek ways to foster the hallmark capacities developed through liberal learning across all institutions and all degree programs and for all learners—especially those first-generation learners who rightly see higher education as their portal to a better future.

When AAC&U was founded in 1915, liberal learning was under siege and the institutions that viewed liberal learning as their mission were in the midst of far-reaching and often wrenching intellectual and institutional change. Choices were fiercely debated. Skeptics were vocal. And yet, over time, the resulting changes made American higher education—firmly anchored to the values of a broad and intellectually challenging liberal education—an undisputed world leader. Public-spirited citizens, educated in these same institutions, fueled a dynamic economy and helped ensure a longer future for freedom.

The AAC&U community believes that, one hundred years later, the key to continuing global leadership for higher education—both in the United States and abroad—is clarity about core purposes joined with restless creativity in connecting those core purposes both to the needs of society and to the lives of our students.

AAC&U members know and value the educational power of liberal education—in expanding economic opportunity, in developing talent, and in fostering both the social imagination and the trained intelligence needed to tackle complex problems. Through AAC&U’s one hundredth annual meeting and across the centennial year, we will work with you to build broader employer, trustee, and policy maker engagement with liberal education as America’s benchmark for quality and to advance innovative practices that can make high-quality learning for all college students not just an aspiration but Americans’ most important investment in our globally shared future.

You, our members, are the vibrant heart of this association. Your work is this community’s shared achievement. As we prepare to mark one hundred years of leadership for high-quality learning, we warmly invite your voice and your contributions. We look forward to seeing you in January at the annual meeting in Washington where we’ll launch a year-long celebration of AAC&U’s centennial.

AAC&U Mission Statement

The mission of the Association of American Colleges and Universities is to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.

(Approved by the AAC&U Board of Directors, November 2012)

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