Monday, December 9

Trends in Curricular Change

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by Chris Mayer

Undergraduate curricular change at colleges and universities is undertaken for many reasons. At some institutions, the curriculum has been in place for many years, even decades, and it is time for a change. Demographic pressures and concerns about the value of degrees are also motivations for curricular change as some colleges and universities, especially liberal arts colleges, seek a stronger connection between the college experience and employment opportunities for students after graduation. 

Institutions also seek to create a distinctive curriculum that demonstrates the institution’s uniqueness, which is important for attracting and retaining students in today’s competitive environment for prospective students. One tension that often occurs during curricular change efforts is the perceived conflict between liberal arts and professional education — or, viewed another way, between a traditional college curriculum and what is thought of as preparation for work. 

Many curricular change efforts are able to address this tension because it turns out that liberal arts can, with some intentionality, prepare students for the workforce. Reports like this one from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and books like Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World and George Anders’ You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education, demonstrate the value of the liberal arts for employment. 

The following examples from several campuses around the country demonstrate the possibility of navigating this tension, and reflect some of the trends occurring in higher education curricular change. 


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