At AAC&U, we have a vision for higher education in which institutions are student-centered and in which programs, courses, and assignments are thoughtfully and coherently designed and attentive to student learning outcomes. Faculty are models for civil discourse, integrative learning, and informed leadership. And students are challenged, supported, and engaged in all aspects of their lives in college.

While the value of the liberal arts continues to be questioned in multiple ways and from many different sectors of our society, the higher education community must remain steadfast in championing liberal education and in articulating and demonstrating the value of the liberal arts (i.e., the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics). We also must continue to do it right – that is, to deliver on this vision and to ensure that all students receive a high-quality liberal education. 

We know much about how to deliver on the promise of liberal education, and we know that critical to our success are the faculty. Below are a few reflections from initiatives in which AAC&U has engaged in recent years—generously supported by the Teagle Foundation—which point to the valuable role of faculty and the tremendous opportunity that faculty leadership provides to strengthen liberal education.

In 2009, we launched the Engaging Departments Institute, which sought to develop leadership among faculty members to strengthen student learning outcomes and eliminate barriers to aligned and effective educational practices. 235 different public and private institutions—including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, comprehensive universities, and research universities—have sent teams to the Institute over the past nine years.  In 2017, the ninth institute will engage faculty teams in what is now the Institute on Integrative Learning and Signature Work. This Institute advances programs and curricula that build students’ capacity to integrate their learning—across general education and the departments, and across academic and co-curricular experiences. With Signature Work as a focal point, this Institute holds great promise for developing the kind of effective faculty leadership that will advance our vision for liberal education in 2017 and beyond.

Like integrative learning, curricular coherence is emerging as an important theme in our current work with faculty. Building on the foundation in Purposeful Pathways, Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes (Leskes and Miller, 2006), the Teagle-funded projects on “Faculty Leadership for Integrative Learning” and “Purposeful Pathways: Faculty Planning for Curricular Coherence,” have engaged multiple institutions to explore the processes through which we can guide students to higher levels of learning.  From these initiatives, we know that curricular coherence is a process, not an end-product. We know that the work to create more coherent curricular designs is enhanced by understanding education as a creative experience for the student. And we know that faculty engagement in meaningful work can and will sustain the value of liberal education.

Our Teagle-funded work over the past decade has contributed to the development of valuable resources to advance integrative learning, curricular coherence, and faculty leadership, including a VALUE rubric to assess integrative learning and Faculty Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning (Ferren and Paris, 2015), which outlines principles, practices, examples, and models for broadening and deepening integrative learning on campus. The initiatives also have served to influence the conceptual and intellectual frameworks for a range of AAC&U’s work, including our team-based institutes, networking conferences, and grant-funded initiatives.

We look forward to continuing our efforts to understand how institutions and faculty can advance curricular coherence and integrative learning and provide the necessary evidence that liberal education is the most valuable form of education for our students and our society. As so much of AAC&U’s work demonstrates, faculty are both a critical resource and solution for advancing student success.

Works Cited 

Ferren, A. & Paris, D. (October 13, 2015). Faculty Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning. 
Available at:

Leskes, A. & Miller, R. (September 1, 2006). Purposeful Pathways: Helping Students Achieve Key Learning
Ourcomes. Available at: