American liberal arts schools offer students the chance to engage critically with history’s greatest thinkers, develop their own sense of analysis, and prepare for careers in a wide range of thriving industries—and the world has taken notice.
“I think there’s a movement out there,” said Susan H. Gillespie, vice president for special global initiatives and founder and director of the Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College. She says a large number of new liberal arts colleges keep “popping up here and there” across the global academic landscape, “often initiatives started by people who had the benefit of liberal education and want to establish it in their own countries.”
These industrious liberal arts graduates, along with investors who recognize the value of liberal arts education, are truly proliferating liberal arts throughout the world—using the American liberal arts education model as a foundation for their international ambitions.
Europeans Launch their Own Small Liberal Arts Colleges
“The liberal arts model as we understand it in this country is an American creation,” said American education expert John Churchill, citing the liberal arts values of citizenship, participatory democracy, and emphasis on individual development.
Yet in the past five years, the universities of Exeter, Winchester, Warwick, Bristol, Kent, Surrey, and King's College London have all launched their own liberal arts college programs, with more in development. Like top American colleges, these ones offer students undergraduate degrees in the humanities and natural science studies.
Outside the UK, so many more American-style liberal arts schools have opened in recent years that professors in Berlin have launched a new consortium, the ‘European Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (ECOLAS)—which "aims to become the leading source of expertise and experience in programmes which adhere to the values of liberal learning," and eventually develop a quality assurance system for liberal arts programs in Europe.
Americans Open Satellite Liberal Arts Colleges in Asia
In 2010, NYU opened a liberal arts college in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In 2011, Yale opened its own liberal arts college in Singapore. In 2012, Seoul’s University of Korea hosted a symposium entitled “The Rising Renaissance of the Liberal Arts in Asian Universities.”
This embracing of American-style small liberal arts colleges may seem like an unlikely hit on a continent where strict and profession-oriented education systems have long been the prevailing norm. But, as higher-education analyst Dr. Chester Goad puts it, “Asia is discovering there is benefit in the creativity and well-rounded perspective that comes from a liberal arts education.”
One of the latest satellite schools is Bard College’s new program at Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution in Jerusalem. The Al-Quds/Bard Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences is expected to make waves throughout the region, according to the college’s president, Sari Nusseibeh.
She says the college will “reach out to the school system, thus trying to influence our national educational philosophy.”
The Liberal Arts College Appeal, Abroad
The past decade has also seen record numbers of international students crossing borders to come and learn at America’s top liberal arts colleges like Shimer.
So why have American liberal arts colleges have earned such a strong reputation? Liberal arts grads and industry insiders know.
“It’s not just the spread of an American-style education. It’s something I think specific about the nature of liberal arts education, its ideology if you will, which I think people perceive - and I think correctly so - to be allied with democratization,” explains Gillespie. “Because it teaches tolerance, because it teaches critical thinking, which is nothing other than an ability to understand diverse points of view.”
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