HIGH POINT, N.C., Oct. 3, 2012 – What is a liberal arts education, and what is its value in today’s society? These questions were posed at a recent panel discussion held at High Point University on Oct. 1 that featured educational leaders from renowned liberal arts institutions across the country.
Amy Ansell, dean of liberal arts at Emerson College; Lee Baker, associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Duke University; David Bayer, chair of the department of mathematics at Barnard College; John Swallow, provost and professor of mathematics and humanities at the University of the South, were the panel guests; and Dr. Dennis Carroll, provost and vice president of academic affairs at HPU, served as panel moderator.
At a time when the purpose of a liberal arts education is being questioned, panelists offered a meaning to this type of education and how it is ultimately a foundation for developing global leaders.
While the liberal arts education has historic roots, new methods have been implemented that make it relevant to the current world. Ansell noted that elements of civic engagement, experiential learning outside of the classroom and more have become the focus of many course offerings. High Point University has heavily incorporated experiential learning into its model in several ways including more focus on internships, service learning, civic engagement, undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities.
“We did indeed hear that HPU’s focus on experiential learning is effective because students learn as much outside of the classroom as they learn inside the classroom,” said Carroll. “We’re proud that our university offers a promising way to prepare students for lucrative careers and futures at a time when education is changing at a fast pace.”
Technology has also changed education in many ways. While panelists agreed that technology offers new ways to communicate and new tools to utilize in the classroom, they agreed that liberal arts should not be molded around technology. Rather, liberal arts professors should use technology where it is beneficial to a student’s learning process.
Despite its changes, panelists said the liberal arts are an education system that is effective and symbolic to the United States.
“There’s a correlation with the innovation that the United States is known for and the liberal arts,” said Baker, who also noted that American institutions focus on liberal arts more than any other country. “Often times, others are trying to emulate what we do here, and the liberal arts are a way to really prepare a new generation of world leaders.”
Overall, the event generated a discussion that is timely and important for students to consider.
“Discussions like this and our ability as a university to engage in that type of critical dialogue, regardless of the topic, allows High Point to grow academically and intellectually as an institution,” said Lindsay Piechnik, assistant professor of mathematics and a faculty member who helped organize the event. “I was very pleased with the support we received from HPU to host this panel.”