The Quality of a Liberal Arts College, Take 2

April 20, 2012

A must-read this morning is an opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed from Mark Putnam, the President of Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Inside Higher Ed titles it “Conventional Wisdom Is Killing Us,” the conventional wisdom being whatever education reformers are hawking or whatever big universities are trying this week.  But the aggregation handle may get at what he has to say better: “Liberal Arts Colleges should ignore reformers and reinforce relationships.”

Here’s a nugget to whet your appetite:

My conversations with parents these days are the most interesting. They have really been shaken by the Great Recession. They feel the stakes are very high in making the right choices and they wonder if they are enabling their sons and daughters to make the best decisions – for a lifetime.

That’s a lot of pressure. As I describe the messy version of education and the inevitable wandering path of students they seem to relax a bit. It’s amazing what happens when you tell parents that the ideas first-year college students have about their future lives and careers are wrong most of the time. After the initial shock, I ask them to think about their own life journeys and the extent to which they had it right at the age of 18. The smiles betray the realization that conventional wisdom is not very helpful after all. The gifts we bring as educators are time and space necessary for enabling students to develop many possible futures through varied courses of study, diverse experiential education settings, challenging international opportunities and a customized set of co-curricular activities.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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