In this paper, we explore these alternative conceptions of liberal education in interaction with two significant factors: 1) shifting demographics and expectations in the college-going population, and 2) changes in the nature of work itself. The issues raised are addressed in the context of continually evolving understandings of “liberal education,” of which we review four. We articulate arguments implicit in each of these interpretations that suggest that liberal educators are indeed responsible for establishing a clear and productive connection between undergraduate education and the preparation of our students for a meaningful life of work.

As we reflect on the two apparently incompatible views of the relationship between liberal learning and the preparation for a life of work, we consider paths of reconciliation between them. We discuss case studies that present approaches being developed at our own institutions that seek to integrate liberal learning with the task of preparing students for a life of work. In a variety of ways, these curricular and co-curricular initiatives seek to connect theory and practice; learning and service; knowledge and experience; and intellect and vocation. Each of these case studies presents a distinctive program or course of study that aims to provide students with an excellent liberal education while at the same time addressing the need to prepare them for the pursuit of a successful career.