Liberal Arts colleges offer degrees in a wide range of subjects, ranging from practical degrees such as nursing, computer science, and education, to traditional liberal arts areas such as English, classical studies, and history. What distinguishes liberal arts institutions from larger universities is their student-centered approach to education, involving small classes and individualized learning. Far from being old-fashioned and hidebound, according to the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges, small liberal arts institutions, because they are small and private rather than large and public are uniquely positioned to be innovators in technology.
Origin Of The Liberal Arts?
The term “artes liberales” originated in Graeco-Roman antiquity. It derived from the word “liber” meaning “free” and referred to the sort of education appropriate for a free person rather than a slave. In other words, it meant an education focused on creating a knowledgeable and well-rounded citizen as opposed to mere vocational training. The liberal arts were originally divided into seven parts. The “trivium” consisted of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic and the “quadrivium” of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These were all distinguished by being forms of general knowledge about how to communicate, calculate, and understand the physical world.
Colleges of Liberal Arts
The institution of a college of liberal arts was intended to replicate in the United States the experience of the colleges that formed Oxford and Cambridge Universities in Britain. These institutions provided a specific type of personalized education in a setting with a rrelativelysmall number of students who regularly interacted with faculty members in small seminars and tutorials. The reason for the term “liberal arts” had less to do with subject matter than with the notion that this was an education dedicated to fthe ormation of individual character through personalized instruction rather than mass vocational training.
Subjects Taught In Colleges of Liberal Arts
The core mission of these colleges when they were founded involved the liberal arts in the traditional sense of the “artes liberales” which would include both humanities and science but not vocational courses such as pre-law or pre-medical tracks, nursing, or engineering. More recently, however, that focus has shifted towards teaching a wider range of subject matter but within a traditional liberal arts context. For example, a nursing program in such a college might insist that a student have a broader background in philosophy, literature, and other humanistic disciplines in order to put her study of nursing in perspective. Actual studies in the field would emphasize smaller classes and more individualized instruction than classes at a larger university, with instruction by actual faculty members rather than teaching assistants.
Not Just The Arts
Although some liberal arts colleges are strongly focused on the arts and humanities, many offer a wide range of programs in areas including science, technology, business, education, nursing and pre-professional programs. For students who value the strong sense of community, faculty mentoring of students, and flexible and individualized instruction of liberal arts institutions, it is possible to have all of these while still studying fields outside the arts and humanities. Many such colleges have distinguished programs in such fields. Small women’s colleges, according to the U.S. News & and World Report have a particularly strong record of encouraging women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields.
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