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New major at William Jewell affirms value of liberal arts
Contact: Rob Eisele816-415-7574
March 30, 2007

William Jewell College, a national liberal arts college located just outside Kansas City, Mo., is making its integrated core curriculum a major unto itself.

Beginning with the graduating class of 2008, William Jewell will acknowledge completion of the college’s 38-hour liberal arts core—plus three “applied learning experiences”—as a recognized major in Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry. This means that virtually all students will now graduate with double majors and some with triple majors.

“One of the great things at Jewell is watching our students mature intellectually to the point that by their fourth year most of them truly value and appreciate that our rigorous, integrated core curriculum is what distinguishes a Jewell education from other colleges,” says Dr. David Sallee, college president.

Some colleges and universities call their core curriculum the general education requirement. At William Jewell, the core is much more than that.

For the past ten years, William Jewell has required its graduates to engage a rigorous interdisciplinary core in addition to their major area(s) of concentrated study. This intentional and progressive series of courses requires every student at the college to study concepts and disciplines from multiple fields and sources, confronting diverse and often contradictory perspectives that regularly challenge the students’ political, moral, spiritual and civic assumptions.

“We expect this new option will give more recognition to what we believe is one of the most intentionally integrated and cohesive core curricula in America today,” Dr. Sallee says.

The Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry major (ACT-In) requires that students complete the 38-hour core and participate in three applied learning experiences before they graduate.

“These additional ‘hands-on learning’ requirements reflect the college’s belief that learning is not done in isolation but requires actually applying what is learned to some of the real-world, relevant challenges our students will face in their careers and in their lives after they leave Jewell,” says Dr. Sallee. “The acronym ‘ACT-In’ seems to work pretty well here. We are asking these students to be active participants in their academic disciplines and to be actively involved in their communities, both locally and globally.”

“Students who enrich their study through applied learning graduate from Jewell better equipped to live, learn and serve in the world,” says Dr. J. Bradley Chance, professor of religion and chair and director of academic advising at William Jewell. “The ACT-In major will offer added incentive to seek out these opportunities, producing more effective graduates and, in the long run, a better world.”

The applied, experiential options of the ACT-In major include:
„X Disciplinary Scholarship, an experiential project in an academic discipline such as undergraduate research, a recital and/or a formal presentation;
„X Reflective Citizenship, including projects designed to actively engage students with the challenges of our contemporary world through study abroad, mission trips and service-learning; and
„X Active Engagement, which requires students to actively connect with their communities, local or on-campus, through leadership experiences, internships and participation in college-sponsored co-curricular endeavors.

“With a new major in Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry, William Jewell College becomes the first institution of higher education in the United States to formally recognize the importance of the liberal arts in providing a context for making informed career and life decisions in an increasingly complex global community,” says Dr. Sallee.

“Until now, our core curriculum was viewed by entering students as something that the college thought was ‘just good for them’ because we had no vehicle that convincingly demonstrated its value to students in their careers and personal life,” Dr. Sallee explains. “And unfortunately most first-year students start college with that same attitude.

“Most successful college graduates and employers already know that asking students to study a series of unrelated, general education courses and focus their education narrowly on their major does not adequately prepare young Americans to succeed in the job market and in the evolving world economy,” notes Dr. Sallee.

The new major reflects a trend in higher education. Students, especially those at private, residential colleges, place great importance on the major and often on multiple majors. Such academic diversification is often viewed by students and parents as providing a greater return on their higher education investment and increasing their marketability to employers.

All students who choose to make ACT-In a major will also be required to have a major in a particular academic discipline. With the introduction of the ACT-In major, William Jewell makes it possible for many students to graduate with three majors in four years.

All Jewell students will continue to take the core curriculum. Those choosing the ACT-In major will add the three required experiential pieces during their career at Jewell. To encourage student participation in the new major, the college will guarantee every student an internship opportunity and a study-abroad opportunity.

“The ACT-In major not only acknowledges the value and distinctiveness of our curriculum as it exists now, but makes those lines explicit and real, moving students toward and integrating experiences of disciplinary scholarship, reflective citizenship, and active engagement,” says Dr. Mark Walters, professor of English at William Jewell. “Students who take up this major will, I believe, proceed more fully and deeply beyond themselves—the very point of a liberal arts education.”

The William Jewell core curriculum and new major is not just a selection of requirements from different disciplines. It was designed by the college’s faculty to lead to specific outcomes including critical thinking, ethical decision-making, problem-solving and communication skills, as well as enhancing students’ ability to engage in quantitative reasoning, analytic reading and independent research. As many studies have revealed over the past ten years, these are life-enriching skills sought by today’s employers.

A new study conducted by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education & America’s Promise as part of the 2007 report “College Learning for the New Global Century” affirms that 69 percent of employers and 64 percent of recent graduates said it was “very important” for four-year colleges to provide “both a broad knowledge in a variety of areas of study and more in-depth knowledge in a specific major or area of interest.” George C. Nolen, president and CEO of Siemens Corporation, provided the report with an example of the value this kind of education provides: “To be successful in global companies like Siemens, business managers must be able to navigate local market differences, seek opportunities for collaboration between businesses, and promote cooperation across functions. A solid foundation in the liberal arts and sciences is necessary for those who want to be corporate leaders.”

Faculty leaders and administrators at the college point to the many prestigious honors earned by students in recent years (including three Goldwater Scholars, five Rhodes Scholar finalists, four Truman Scholars, seven members of USA TODAY’S All-USA Academic Teams, as well as the nation’s top-ranked 2007 debate team) as evidence that the college’s rigorous core curriculum is helping students excel.

Sallee notes that the liberal arts component of the Jewell curriculum is often cited by alumni as a critical element of their college experience. “It’s interesting that whenever I am traveling and meeting with alumni, many of them will tell me how much they enjoyed the major field of study and those particular professors,” Dr. Sallee says. “But inevitably they also attribute their problem-solving skills, their thinking and reasoning skills and their interest in lifelong learning to the liberal arts and sciences education they received at Jewell. They credit those capabilities as drivers and keys to their success in their professions and in their personal lives.”

While the label ‘liberal arts education’ is often misunderstood, college-bound students are actively seeking the benefits and value of this kind of education. Recent studies conducted for William Jewell by the national higher education consultants and research firm George Dehne Associates Integrated Services (GDAIS) affirm the appeal of a solid liberal arts education.

For example, more than eight of ten college-bound students recently surveyed by GDAIS strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that “college should prepare me for future careers, not just my first job”; and eight of ten college-bound students agreed that “the college I choose should give me a foundation for lifelong learning”—both long-standing arguments for the liberal arts and sciences.

“Perhaps the most effective argument for the Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry major is the fact that the overwhelming majority of college-bound students believe that a college should provide an education that prepares them for rich, fulfilling lives and not just for their careers,” Dr. Sallee said. “ACT-In will make good on that promise. William Jewell College is pointing the way toward a new category of national institutions working to deliver a contemporary liberal education that all of us in the global community clearly require for a more secure and prosperous future.”

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