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Maryland's small colleges saw the future, and it was bleak. Now, they're selling liberal arts with a twist. (Goucher, St. John's, & McDaniel)

The Baltimore Sun

May 10, 2019

 

At Goucher College, students no longer need to take the standard classes outside their major to graduate. Introduction to Biology has been eliminated. In its place: Disease and Discrimination, a course that crosses disciplines to explore the inequalities in access to health care. Introduction to Philosophy was dropped for Society in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Math has become Integrative Data Analytics.

Leaders at Goucher and other small, private colleges in Maryland heard the national debate over whether such institutions were relevant to students thirsting for marketable skills and were worried about the intense competition for enrollment that was around the corner. With the number of small college closures and mergers accelerating each year, some local institutions decided that adapting to a new landscape in higher education was imperative if they wanted to survive.

They’ve responded by adjusting course offerings, lowering their prices, adding graduate classes that lead to employment and developing other strategies to survive a tough era for liberal arts schools.

“Small liberal arts colleges are having to grapple with the assertion that it is too expensive, too difficult to access and it doesn’t teach people 21st-century skills," said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Jose Bowen, Goucher’s president, began confronting this reality several years ago while keeping an eye on a demographic cloud in the horizon. The number of children born after the recession dropped.

“There is a massive cliff coming in 2025,” he said. “It is a pretty scary book.”

Goucher decided “to reformulate the liberal arts” — an idea that dates to the Roman Empire. “I can tell parents we are going to prepare their children for the job market,” Bowen said. The way they did that was to give students the skills needed to be a good employee, which meant focusing teaching less on the content and more on the process of learning.

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