The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 11, 2013

College presidents write of liberal arts' value

PHILADELPHIA — As higher education comes under increased pressure to prove its worth, two local college presidents argue in a new book that the liberal arts play a vital role in educating the world’s leaders and problem-solvers.

While many colleges are aimed at preparing students for a profession or career, liberal arts colleges develop critical thinkers who are able to cross disciplines, said Daniel H. Weiss, president of Haverford College, one of the nation’s most highly selective and expensive small liberal arts colleges.

“We help people get all the jobs and follow the path of a rewarding and interesting life that contributes to society,” said Weiss, who wrote and co-edited the collection of essays with Rebecca Chopp, president of Swarthmore College, and Susan Frost, an educational consultant.

The book comes as colleges are preparing to face a new accountability and ratings system still in development by the Obama administration and due out in 2015.

In “Remaking College,” the two presidents assert that higher education will have to address spiraling costs and that some colleges — particularly regional liberal arts colleges — will have trouble surviving if they don’t.

Colleges need to — and are — looking at doing things differently, Weiss and Chopp write. Among the innovations: Exploring different uses for their facilities; offering summer sessions to allow students to complete their degrees in three years; offering courses that are a hybrid of online and in-class instruction; and collaborating on programs and services.

Haverford, Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore have long collaborated. They share libraries and administrative services, started a joint linguistics department, and more recently began working together on environmental sciences and environmental studies, Chopp said.

In the last year, the three colleges have joined a consortium of nine liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania that meets “to talk about how we can collaborate to cut costs while providing new support for faculty and students,” Chopp said. Other colleges involved in the effort are Washington and Jefferson; Gettysburg; Ursinus; Franklin and Marshall; Juniata; and Dickinson.

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