Lost Horizons: Liberal Education and the LEAP Report

By Richard Hartnett and Shifang Li.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Liberal education faces a pivotal moment in American higher education landscape. Not only are students severely underprepared in critical thinking, writing, and quantitative reasoning, but they are lacking in civic engagement and global awareness. This is the sobering conclusion of LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) report on College Learning for the New Global Century from the American Association of Colleges and Universities. They weave a promising vision for reinventing liberal education and restoring integrity to the undergraduate curriculum at a time when the quality of undergraduate education is declining by international comparisons. Three facets of the LEAP report warrant particular attention. (1) Extending the scope of liberal learning from the conventional general education curriculum in the first two years of college to courses for department majors—liberal education across the curriculum. (2) Identifying what students need to know, i.e., a specific set of outcomes to be mastered by all students. (3) Linking these collegiate outcomes to 21st Century learning standards for elementary and secondary schools, with a progression and continuous evaluation of student performance. Liberal education is reconceptualized within a framework with four sets of learning outcomes: knowledge of human cultures and physical and natural world; intellectual and practical skills; personal and social responsibility, intercultural awareness and ethical reasoning.
This report demonstrates the eclipse of horizons and the loss of a moral framework in the wake of the triumph of disengaged rationality, the sanctification of ordinary life, and the suppression of the passions. This study traces the trajectory of these developments and their reflection in the LEAP report. A final section offers a set of recommendations for restoring integrity to American liberal education.

Keywords: Liberal Education, Learning Outcomes, Moral Framework, Instrumental Rationality

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.77-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 548.313KB).

Dr. Richard Hartnett

Chair, Educational Leadership Department, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

Dr. Hartnett has studied the history of higher education from a comparative and cross-national perspective. He published the first comprehensive history of Chinese higher education. He has also analyzed the plight of liberal education in the USA, particularly from the perspective of its philosophical framework. He chairs the department of Educational Leadership at West Virginia University and teaches courses in leadership and the history of higher education. He is currently completing a book on the earliest "universities" in China and Greece.

Shifang Li

Graduate Assistant, Educational Leadership, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

Ms. Li is completing her doctorate in higher education administration and is studying the latest report from the AAUCU on liberal education. She is a graduate of Shaanxi University in China and has a scholarly interest in assessment and comparative higher education, particularly undergraduate studies.


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