Lanterns in the Bright Morning Hours: Liberal Arts Education & Liberal Arts Colleges in the 21st Century

Jones, Jason, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Breneman, David, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This dissertation is an analysis of liberal education at American liberal arts colleges in the early 21st century. The primary goal of this study is to construct a pragmatic definition of liberal education, nothing both conceptual and practical components. The conceptual aspects are drawn from the humanities literature, while the practical components are derived from the research question of this study: to what degree do liberal arts colleges have shared, cross-institutional components that comprise liberal education?

To answer this question, I analyze six secondary research questions on institutioal practices ad components of 103 liberal arts colleges:
1) If the school has an honor code, if and how does it relate to liberal arts education?
2) What educational experiences are required for all students?
3) What are the faculty-student ratios for each institution, including average class sizes?
4) How does the school articulate liberal education on institutional webpages?
5) What percentage of students live on campus?
6) What, if any, does the presence of co- and extracurriculars indicate about liberal education?

Data on these questions were found on institutional websites and college profile pages from the Carnegie Classification and University and College Accountability Network (U-CAN). A survey of 206 presidents and chief academic officers of schools in the sample offers data triangulation. The 71 responses to the survey confirm the findings and analysis of the data. Regarding the practice of liberal education, community and curriculum respectively represent the most salient traits. Community dedicated to learning in and outside the classroom and structured around the curricular breadth and depth of study appears to be the main driver behind the practice of liberal education at liberal arts colleges. While curricular breadth and depth matter, the specifics of disciplines and the general education are quite varied among institutions. Indeed the breadth and depth of study’s main purpose was found to be linked with this notion of community where students work closely with multiple faculty and staff.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
higher education, liberal arts education, liberal education, liberal arts colleges, postsecondary education
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