Major research universities often are looked to as the primary source of research and innovation. However, when it comes to actually implementing changes, especially changes in the higher education system itself, small liberal arts colleges may be in a much better position to take a leading role.
A case in point is the education overhaul being proposed by Baker University in Baldwin City. Recognizing the drastically different demands placed on current university graduates, Baker officials are looking at major changes in the school’s general education requirements.
The new model will shift the focus from students simply fulfilling course requirements to students actually developing the skills that potential employers are looking for: strong written and verbal communication skills, creative thinking, global and ethical awareness and an ability to work in teams. If the new curriculum is approved by Baker’s Board of Trustees, the school will replace such classes as Composition I and II with “core classes” that integrate writing, public speaking and other skills.
Talking about the new curriculum, Baker officials pointed to the fast-changing world that the school’s graduates already face. The associate dean for Baker’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences noted, “A lot of our students will have jobs when they graduate that don’t exist today.”
If that isn’t the case when they graduate, it certainly will be true of the jobs they will have before they retire. An ability to communicate, assess situations and adapt is an essential part of their education.
Like students, higher education also has to be willing to adapt to change, but it can be difficult to turn a ship as large as a major state university. Small liberal arts universities like Baker are far more limber when it comes to revamping the way they prepare students. They are in a far better position to act as pioneers in education innovation.
The academic course that Baker envisions for itself makes excellent sense. It responds to changing demands in the job market in a way that could put Baker graduates in high demand with potential employers. The school could provide a laboratory to test curriculum changes that could benefit much larger universities in the years to come.
It’s great to see Baker officials being willing to rise to the challenge of making changes to benefit both students and future employers.