This summer, we're digging into our archives for stories on current trends, challenges and opportunities in higher ed. This is our first installment of 2019.
The small size and focused curriculum upon which many liberal arts colleges once prided themselves is proving to be a strain in light of shrinking enrollment, cost concerns and pressure to teach skills that more directly reflect what employers are asking for.
Some have been forced to shutter in response. Others are making big changes to avoid doing so. Those include tuition resets, more hands-on learning for students and new programs.
In the four stories below, our writers examine these changes and what they indicate for the future of liberal arts education.
Colleges get hands-on to teach students real-world skills
When Shenandoah University's Conservatory canceled classes for a week so students could create and rehearse artistic projects, they worried students would blow it off. The opposite happened. Faculty "started to realize that the success they saw in the students was an affirmation of the type of training they were providing," said the school's dean, Michael Stepniak.
The week-long class hiatus is just one example of liberal arts colleges changing what and how they teach in response to pressures for postsecondary education to give students skills that translate more directly into the workplace. Liberal arts colleges' high cost and exclusivity heighten this pressure. Read more.
To survive, small colleges are rethinking the liberal arts
Hiram College, in Ohio, and others like it are revamping their curriculum to include more experiential learning and opportunities to build leadership skills. "Colleges don't think (the liberal arts) resonates with 18-year-olds, but we didn't want to abandon liberal arts," Hiram President Lori Varlotta said. "We just know they aren't the same (today) as they were in the 18th (century)." The results are promising. Read more.
What happened when a small liberal arts college stopped raising tuition
St. John's College knew something had to change. Tuition had more than doubled in two decades and was climbing to unsustainable heights. "Where does it stop?" asked Panayiotis Kanelos, president of the school's campus in Annapolis, Maryland. "We just planted a flag and said, for us, it stops here."
The college, which also has a campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, slashed tuition by a third and embarked on an ambitious $300 million fundraising campaign to expand its endowment to support scholarships. The college has been largely successful so far. Messaging has been key, its leaders note. Read more
How Mills College transformed its 'deficit culture'
Financial stability is about more than a college's own financial health — it extends to that of its students, explained Julia Chinyere Oparah, provost and dean of faculty at Mills College. And, increasingly, Mills students needed more support.
To reverse years of budget shortfalls and enrollment declines, the California college had to take drastic steps. In addition to cutting staff, it also changed its culture around spending. The college restructured its curriculum to better reflect the programs students wanted and to make it easier for students to transfer in. It also struck partnerships with other colleges.
Making such significant changes required persistence and thoughtfulness. "You can't burn out in the middle and crash," Oparah said. Read more.