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A Strategic Plan for Student Success: Connecting Liberal Education With Our Global Future

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In my previous Huffington Post blogs, I have discussed the urgent need for a strengthened career focus in higher education in conjunction with a supporting model for learning -- theory, practice, mentoring -- a holistic model that we have implemented at Stevenson University. Coupling the two ensures that students are equally enriched by knowledge and prepared for career success by their educations.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recently released a proposed strategic plan for American higher education that helps to frame and extend these ideas even more. The plan is outlined in its 2013 publication "Big Questions, Urgent Challenges: Liberal Education and Americans' Global Future." This publication highlights the association's Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) Vision for Effective Learning. In short, the report says that providing a liberal education is more than just an educational choice, it is a national and global necessity.

But this is not just traditional liberal -- or liberal arts -- education rehashed. This is liberal education with a 21st century focus on meaningful outcomes. The publication outlines seven principles of excellence and several essential learning outcomes that the AAC&U deems critical for our students' success in the coming decades. These principles are worth reviewing for all of those interested in the future and relevancy of American higher education in the today's global marketplace.

The first LEAP principle, "Aim High -- And Make Excellence Inclusive," discusses the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, which state that students will gain knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world; intellectual and practical skills; personal and social responsibility; and integrative and applied learning. The principle also says that such outcomes should be woven throughout the entire educational experience. In our modern American society, educational excellence is not always easy to attain, but starting by meeting students where they are -- a tactic we take at my own institution--helps to best position them for success in all aspects of their education, inside and outside the classroom.

"Give Students a Compass," the second principle, explains the need to put educational direction and student outcomes together. Stevenson has implemented this through a framework we call Career Architecture comprising three components: personal direction, professional know-how, and discipline expertise. Integrating these components with their curriculum provides that compass for students, showing them how their knowledge and skills will be applied and adapted in their career paths.

The third principle, "Teach the Arts of Inquiry and Innovation," addresses the need to find creative ways to convey and gain knowledge and to foster pedagogical innovation in and among faculty. While we can adhere to traditional learning tools and techniques, the fact is that new methods can be as effective if not more so for today's students. The failure to seek innovation will not only put an institution behind the curve but, more importantly, put our students at a learning and competitive disadvantage in the job marketplace.

"Engage the Big Questions," the fourth principle, reinforces the major hallmark of a liberal arts education -- creating a framework for students to think expansively and ask the profound questions that will make in our society and our the world. These questions keep students engaged, inspire their critical and creative thinking, and motivate them in and outside the classroom to continually seek knowledge and new solutions.

The fifth principle, "Connect Knowledge with Choices and Actions" addresses the fact that what is learned in the classroom never seems as powerful until it is linked to action, feedback, and concrete outcomes in the "real world." At Stevenson, we define this through our theory, practice, and mentoring model and see this as an effective framework to implement within the curriculum.

The sixth principle is "Foster Civic, Intercultural, and Ethical Learning." The ability to function in a multicultural environment is essential for today's global conversations and interactions. Our nation, our state, and our communities are more diverse than ever, but are also more interconnected. Today's students are immersed in a global age where multiculturalism IS culture, and their job success will be determined, in part, by how well we have prepared them to live and navigate the diverse world in which we live.

The final and seventh principle of the AAC&U plan, "Assess Students' Ability to Apply Learning to Complex Problems," focuses on teaching and measuring deep and significant learning. Assessment is a critical part of every aspect of our educational experience -- we cannot help our students grow or our institutional effectiveness without it. Nor can we truly demonstrate the value of an individual's or a family's investment in higher education without it.

The seven LEAP principles are a direct way by which America's higher education leaders can reflect on the roles and missions of their institutions and whether they are ready to take on the challenges of our global 21st century educational marketplace. This gives students an education that is not only enriching but relevant for their entire lives, personally and professionally.