February 14, 2012

Lafayette Will Host Conference on the Future of the Liberal Arts College

President Daniel H. Weiss and Rebecca S. Chopp, president of Swarthmore College, will host a conference on the future of the liberal arts college in America April 9-11 at Lafayette.

A distinguished group of college presidents and other leaders will discuss major issues facing higher education and take the lead in developing new ideas and bold proposals to ensure the continued strength and value of liberal arts education for future generations of students. The conference, “The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and its Leadership Role in Education around the World,” is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Learn about the conference’s sessions and speakers

“Whereas we recognize that all institutions—public and private, large and small—will face comparable challenges, it is our view that by virtue of their scale and their focused mission, liberal arts colleges are especially well-positioned to lead in developing new approaches for an uncertain future,” Weiss and Chopp wrote in describing the forum. “We want to support the development of new ideas, bold proposals, and shared learning as we assess the state of our collective enterprise and, in so doing, establish a more informed platform for future leadership and decision-making during a time of unprecedented change.”

A new national survey shows that graduates of liberal arts colleges offer a strong and demonstrable “Yes” to three big questions in the current discussion about higher education:

  • Is it worth the cost?
  • Does the residential learning experience matter?
  • Does a college degree make a difference in the job hunt and career advancement?

Commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of more than 100 leading liberal arts colleges including Lafayette and Swarthmore, the survey explores the lasting effects of the college experience in career preparation and advancement, skill development, development of personal and professional values and attitudes, and other areas. The findings show that the signature characteristics of a liberal arts college experience—including interaction between faculty and students; a strong community; a challenging, active classroom environment; and peer interactions both inside and outside the classroom—all contribute to positive student outcomes.

The conference at Lafayette will provide a thoughtful context for college presidents and other influential leaders in higher education to think about issues that are emerging as crucial for all of higher education. Its goals are to identify and analyze key environmental factors and internal drivers that affect the mission and sustainability of residential liberal arts colleges, discover what existing pilot programs and best practices hold promise for future development, and explore new narratives and models of the liberal arts to guide undergraduate education in the 21st century.

In the opening session, Weiss will speak on the changing landscape of higher education, followed by remarks by Eugene M. Tobin, program officer for the Mellon Foundation’s Higher Education and the Liberal Arts Colleges Program. William G. Bowen, president emeritus of the Mellon Foundation and president emeritus of Princeton University, will deliver a keynote address.

The conference is free of charge but registration is required. Contact Marie Enea, Office of the President, (610) 330-5202,

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1 Comment

  1. Dear College Administrators

    I think the conference should not treat the “demostrable yes” , to the three key questions provided in the survey, as finished business. In today’s economic environment, there are related questions for which tuition paying parents have no answers. For example:
    – why have liberal arts college tuition levels over the last 30 years risen at twice the rate of inflation;
    – is the “residential experience” educational, social, or a recruitment tool ?
    – do small “name” colleges really have any advantages in the job market vs. large state universities, and if so, in what fields?

    As the product of the small liberal arts educational model, I can’t deny some of the advantages. However, in some careers and locations, the advantages are harder to see, much less justify on an economic scale. For families and students with finite resources, these questions are very important considerations when choosing where to attend. I suppose financial aid is the missing piece, however, the upper middle class is often a casualty in the current system.

    So if the future of the liberal arts college is to educate and pamper the top 1% along with the bottom 75%, then I think collectively the group is on the right track. However, if “diversity” is to include children of successful parents, tuition can’t be just a Tiffany’s sticker price to imply quality.

    says George Grey
    February 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm

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