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What is Liberal Education - from the AACU Website

What is Liberal Education?

Liberal education is a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement. These broad goals have been enduring even as the courses and requirements that comprise a liberal education have changed over the years. Characterized by challenging encounters with important and relevant issues today and throughout history, a liberal education prepares graduates both for socially valued work and for civic leadership in their society. It usually includes a general education curriculum that provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, along with more in-depth study in at least one field or area of concentration.

What is Liberal Education?

Liberal education is a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement. These broad goals have been enduring even as the courses and requirements that comprise a liberal education have changed over the years. Characterized by challenging encounters with important and relevant issues today and throughout history, a liberal education prepares graduates both for socially valued work and for civic leadership in their society. It usually includes a general education curriculum that provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, along with more in-depth study in at least one field or area of concentration.

By its nature, liberal education is global and pluralistic. It embraces the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the social, natural, and intellectual world. To acknowledge such diversity in all its forms is both an intellectual commitment and a social responsibility, for nothing less will equip us to understand our world and to pursue fruitful lives.

Essential Learning Outcomes

AAC&U's LEAP Campaign has defined a a robust set of "Essential Learning Outcomes" that students develop during an excellent contemporary liberal education. Beginning in school, and continuing at successively higher levels across their college studies, students should prepare for twenty-first-century challenges by gaining:

Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World

Through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences,
humanities, histories, languages, and the arts
Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary
and enduring

Intellectual and Practical Skills, Including

Inquiry and analysis
Critical and creative thinking
Written and oral communication
Quantitative literacy
Information literacy
Teamwork and problem solving
Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of
progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance

Personal and Social Responsibility, Including

Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global
Intercultural knowledge and competence
Ethical reasoning and action
Foundations and skills for lifelong learning
Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges

Integrative Learning, Including

Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and
specialized studies
Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and
responsibilities to new settings and complex problems

Often-Confused Terms

Liberal education
A philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement. Characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than specific content, liberal education can occur at all types of colleges and universities. "General Education" (cf. below) and an expectation of in-depth study in at least one field normally comprise liberal education.

Liberal arts
Specific disciplines (the humanities, social sciences, and sciences).

Liberal arts colleges
A particular institutional type—often small, often residential—that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and has a strong focus on liberal arts disciplines.

Artes Liberales
Historically, the basis for the modern liberal arts; the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) and the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric).

General Education
The part of a liberal education curriculum shared by all students. It provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and forms the basis for developing important intellectual and civic capacities. General Education may also be called "the core curriculum" or "liberal studies."