In the recently released film Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks’ character finds himself unexpectedly laid off from his job, primarily because he lacks a college degree. Faced with a newfound but daunting freedom, Crowne enrolls in the local community college. While the film employs the predictable elements of dramedy films (such as the casting of Julia Roberts as Crowne’s teacher/love interest), it exemplifies stories we see every day at the College of Liberal Studies.
The cornerstone of our college has always been to provide a quality, interdisciplinary education to working adults – a subject presented in the film.
As we celebrate the College of Liberal Studies’ 50th anniversary, we are especially mindful of the five principles that guided its founding.
- a focus on working adults as our primary student base;
- an emphasis on the value of interdisciplinary perspectives, blended with specialty programs having immediate application of those broad-based understandings;
- an intentional focus on academic rigor and high-quality learning;
- a strong commitment to being fiscally self-sustaining; and
- remaining on the forefront of adult education endeavors.
In keeping with the spirit of nostalgia, it’s natural to reflect on our history, review its progression and compare it to today.
In 1961, our founding year, when the college was a department of Continuing Education, the need to provide higher education opportunities to working adults was a relatively novel idea. Today, the “non-traditional” student has become the traditional student. According to Educause Review, more than 60 percent of today’s college students are older than age 25, and more than 60 percent of students work full time while pursuing their education. These proportions will only continue to grow.
The world of higher education has reached incredible milestones in this last half century, most notably the introduction of online courses – an innovation our founders likely never predicted. The perception of online course quality is certainly becoming more positive. Also, data show growing interest for online delivery in a wide variety of disciplines, such as communications, computer science and nursing, as well as our degrees in criminal justice, museum studies, administrative leadership and prevention science.
One core principle that has steadfastly persevered is the value of interdisciplinarity, or the combination of two or more academic fields into a broader perspective. Thurman J. White, founder of the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education, recognized the importance of this concept, noting that it serves the unified, integrated individual. “Liberal education gives meaning, provides motivation and purpose, and lends a critical perspective that enables the specialist to adapt his competence in a changing world,” White explained in his memoir, My Journey on the Learning Frontier.
This correlates to another idea that our founders emphasized: the link between a liberal education and one’s career. This key component of our program is outlined in Bachelor of Liberal Studies: Development of a Curriculum at the University of Oklahoma, a publication by the Center for the Study of Liberal Education for Adults at Boston University, affectionately known around here as the “red book.” The book notes that the relevance of liberal education to all fields of employment is often overlooked: “The difference between one man who regards his ‘common’ labor as mixing mortar or moving stone and another man who regards the same labor as ‘building a cathedral’ may be the difference between skill without liberal education and skill plus liberal education.”
As we plan for our next 50 years and beyond, we pledge to remain true to those five “first principles” that have led us to this point. Although circumstances and contexts change over time, following these fundamentals will help us react to emerging trends and lead us to even greater achievements in the future.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Vantage Point, which celebrates a half-century of excellence.
Until next time.