The world we live in today is especially well suited to a liberal arts education
It’s been just over four years now since I—not knowing anyone other than Les Parsons—arrived at Augustana. Les had persuaded me to make the last minute decision to move from Ontario and start university in Camrose.
I met the roommates I would live with for the year when they opened the door to let me in with my luggage. Although the decision to move was impromptu, I couldn’t have chose better if I tried. I didn’t know anything about liberal arts, interdisciplinary education or think much about class schedules at the time, but I don’t think there’s been a better time to be an Augustana student.
You need look no further than Section 9 of the recently released University of Alberta institutional strategic plan to see that Augustana’s future looks promising. The section dictates to “facilitate and deepen inter-campus connections, communication, and collaborations with Augustana Campus, and ensure that it is strengthened as a leading liberal arts college, and as a living laboratory for teaching and learning innovation, to the benefit of the entire university.”
Over the past few years, liberal arts and less specialized approaches to education have started to come into their own, both in Canada and abroad. At the same time, Augustana has positioned itself as a laboratory for innovative teaching. Augustana students are more often than not the first to benefit from new approaches to postsecondary education from professors that care about teaching.
Overseas in Singapore, the new Yale-NUS campus answers increasing demand for liberal arts education in Southeast Asia. Back in Canada, a similar demand for quality interdisciplinary education is reflected in the recently founded Quest University in Squamish BC that only offers one program: An interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts and Sciences; and demand for Hamilton ON based McMaster University’s Arts and Science program makes it one of the most selective programs in the country.
There are few other campuses I’ve encountered where there is so much regular interaction between students and faculty who are studying different disciplines. And exposure to other disciplines is important.
Many of the challenges facing the world today require solutions that will come from collaborating and working between disciplines. Behavioral Economics, which combines economics and psychology, is a great example of how combining the insights of two traditionally separate fields of study can lead to incredible breakthroughs. The public policy of the future will require people with a grasp of both science and technology as well as policy making and governance—two very segregated disciplines within academia.
Sometimes it seems antiquated to place value on breadth and core requirements. Our political environment has been obsessed with education that imparts specific “job ready” skills—whatever those are.
Yet it doesn’t make sense to specialize early in a world where the pace of change is faster than ever. World leading companies of today often weren’t even on the radar four years ago. In many ways, the pace of change is faster than the rate at which people can become educated for it. This will pose a challenge for university programs that have relied on preparing graduates for a specific career upon graduation, and increase the importance of a well-rounded education that prepares graduates to respond to change.
The idea that breadth and variety is an essential part of a great education program isn’t new. Stanford, Yale and Harvard all have liberal arts or breadth requirements not unlike the Augustana Core. It seems that now, more than ever, it is Augustana’s time to shine.