Liberal Education as a Fundamental Branding Opportunity
Liberal education and its role in the 21st century do not appear to be widely understood or valued in society as a whole. Many parents and prospective students are attracted to professional programs or applied studies perceiving that they are the best routes for gainful employment. The University of Lethbridge is committed to a strong liberal education program at the undergraduate level but needs to modernize and remodel the program and communicate the uniqueness of its approach and the positive outcomes of such an education.
Many University of Lethbride graduates only understand the value of their liberal education degree up to 10 years after the fact. This observation underscores their degree’s true worth as a pathway to meaningful employment and engaged living, but also how challenging it might be to build a tangible case for liberal education in today’s crowded market.
Some of the descriptions of liberal education heard during the interviews include:
- A ‘closed system with many moving parts’
- Programs designed to allow sampling of other programs
- Student understanding of how other disciplines interact with their own
- Teaching by theme with teams of instructors to cover complex issues such as climate change, providing a broad, real-life perspective to problem-solving
- Exposure to research and opportunities to work with graduate students
- Integration of seemingly disparate bits of knowledge
- A responsibility toward the community, a duty to be engaged in, and to serve the community
- An distinct approach compared to American Liberal Arts Education (although the distinction is unclear)
Implications for the Master Plan
The Master Plan will need to resist the current trend toward academic fragmentation on campus and honour the University’s rich heritage and vision as a liberal education institution, and the multi-disciplinarity this requires. Therefore, any new building should be multi-functional rather than dedicated to a specific discipline. Issues of proximity and the student body’s relationship to spaces that allow cross-disciplinarity will be addressed.