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Liberal Education and America's Promise

UW-Madison participates in the Association of American Colleges and Universities' national project, Liberal Education and America's Promise. Wisconsin - and the University of Wisconsin System specifically - was the pilot state for this project, which now has institutions all across the nation participating.

This ten-year long initiative seeks to identify and clarify the goals and learning outcomes essential for all college students in the 21st century if they are to engage successfully with rapidly changing global economies and interdependencies. This project reaches out to students in technical and professional programs, not just those in the humanities and social sciences who are not pursuing technical or science majors. In so reaching across disciplines in support of this range of technical and intellectual skills, this initiative builds upon the foundation laid in a broad program of general education.


What are the Essential Learning Outcomes for Liberal Education?

Studies conducted by the AAC&U found that employers and recent college graduates recognize the importance of interdisciplinary and and flexible learning as key to success in the new global century. The traditional notion of liberal education - an elite curriculum for a small group that could afford liberal arts education for its own sake - is outmoded. Today, all students need to have the experiences and develop the skills inherent in liberal education if they are to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.

The LEAP project on the UW-Madison campus began with efforts to improve, internally, our ability to communicate effectively and to work more intentionally to promote the goals of a broad-based, liberal education. We continue to work with each other (faculty, staff, and students) to become more articulate about the role of this philosophy of education and to foster "ah-ha" moments in which our colleagues recognize the value of discussing the goals and outcomes of liberal education in order that our students, their parents, and others across Wisconsin recognize its value. Furthermore, being articulate and intentional with our students in discussing liberal education is empowering for students because they will be better able to gauge their own development and voice their own skills and talents as they prepare for life beyond the university.

One important outgrowth of these efforts has been the development of a concept of "The Wisconsin Experience" and a statement describing "The Wisconsin Experience at UW-Madison," which attempts to describe the distinctive style of "essential learning" at UW-Madison.