An Opportunity to Illuminate the Liberal Arts

This evening is the beginning of a wonderful gathering in the land of 10,000 lakes: Liberal Arts Illuminated. The College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University (CSB/SJU) are hosting over 200 hearts, minds and souls who are coming together to learn more and engage in informed conversations about how to better define the value and importance of a liberal arts education—and then communicate the benefits of this wonderful and relevant form of learning to a marketplace seeking an educational experience that produces meaningful outcomes.

In many ways, this has been an ongoing challenge—and a reminder to not assume. Nearly 30 years ago I began working with a wonderful liberal arts college in Santa Fe, St. John’s College. One of the key things we did then was produce an informational handout for students, parents and college counselors about what the term liberal arts not only meant but what the benefits of this type of education really are. No surprise, this lack of understanding is even more heightened as students and families actively assess the value and worth of various higher education experiences. And if you don’t actively communicate and translate the benefits of the educational experience in relevant terms, then fewer students and families will consider and select a liberal arts educational experience.

Marketplace realities have no doubt been a catalyst for bringing together so many informed perspectives, and tonight’s opening speaker, Andrew Delbanco, will definitely get us thinking. A professor at Columbia University and author of College: What It Was, Is and Should Be, Delbanco spoke several years ago at our Summer Seminar conference and was simply outstanding. My daughter, who is a liberal arts graduate and successful in business, attended the presentation and noted that his informed message was absolutely inspiring.

This year’s theme at our Summer Seminar conference was “Informed Leadership: Thinking for the Future.” There is no question that Liberal Arts Illuminated will continue this theme here in the land of Lake Wobegon. There are so many informed leaders who have a breadth of perspective and depth of knowledge about the liberal arts educational experience, many of whom The Lawlor Group (TLG) has had the privilege of interacting with over the course of time.

Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), who oversees AAC&U’s annual survey of employers, will be sharing her informed insights just as she did in our interview with her for The Lawlor Review. Nationally-known higher education thought leader and author Jon McGee will have a bit of home-court advantage, since he is also the vice president for planning and public affairs at CSB/SJU. Jon has spoken at numerous TLG conferences and was gracious enough to share some of his insights via our Smarketplace blog when his new book, Breakpoint: The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education came out last year.

Georgia Nugent, former president of our client Kenyon College and now associated with the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), has played a significant role in inspiring passion and persuasion for the liberal arts. She has been an incredible advocate as CIC embarked on a public information campaign, “Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education.” One of the outcomes of this initiative was her essay, “The Liberal Arts in Action: Past, Present, and Future.” In addition, CIC introduced the Libby and Art campaign, which you can follow along at @smartcolleges.

The list of dynamic thought leaders who will be sharing their informed insights during the next several days of Liberal Arts Illuminated goes on and on. My colleagues and I will be sharing more thoughts and observations during and after the conference, but please follow via the conference’s hashtag: #WhyLibArts. The content will hopefully be illuminating and lead to a better understanding about the value of a liberal arts education.