Throughout our country’s history there has been a healthy tension between an education focused on the development of an enlightened and engaged citizenry and a more specialized, practical education for workforce development. In recent years, much of the public discourse in the United States has focused on the role of higher education in preparing students to enter the workforce. Indeed, the surveys reviewed in this chapter show that many Americans view higher education as a path to a “good job.” Yet the evidence reviewed in this chapter also suggests that the educational outcomes employers are asking for today—including written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings—are the same kinds of learning outcomes that many institutions of higher education believe will prepare graduates for work, life, and active, engaged citizenship. As Chapter 6 of this report will demonstrate, these are also the kinds of learning outcomes associated with certain integrative approaches in higher education.
This chapter provides a brief history of higher education in the United States and considers the relationship between disciplinary integration and issues of equity and diversity in higher education. It describes administrative structures and pressures in higher education that can drive the establishment of disciplinary “silos” and looks at what students and employers say they want from higher education. It concludes by considering some of the
1 The committee would like to thank research consultants Hannah Stewart-Gambino and Jenn Stroud Rossmann for their significant contributions to this chapter.
ways in which higher education is changing to respond to the challenges and opportunities of our time. This discussion frames the other chapters in this report by articulating the kinds of learning outcomes that students need to be successful in their lives and careers today.
The concept of integration as a form of exchange between disciplines is not new. Originally called “liberal education,” integration has been a goal of college education in the United States throughout the country’s history (Chaves, 2014; Delbanco, 2012; Nussbaum, 1997; Zakaria, 2015). Study in an array of fields drawn from classical Greek and Latin roots constituted the sum total of college education from the Enlightenment to the era of industrialization. There were no major programs for undergraduates. Although today the term “liberal arts” is often used synonymously with “the humanities,” this is not the original meaning of the term. A classic liberal education included training in grammar, logic, rhetoric (the Trivium), arithmetic, geometry, the theory of music, and astronomy (the Quadrivium), and today many schools include the natural and social sciences, along with the arts and humanities, in liberal arts degree programs. The founders believed that a broad and interwoven education was essential to the preparation of citizens for life, work, and civic participation. An educated and open mind would empower the college educated to separate truth from falsehood, superstition and bias from fact, and logic from illogic. The term “liberal” in the phrase “liberal education” has never meant “political liberalism.” In Enlightenment usage and since, it has meant liberation of the mind2 (Nussbaum, 2005).
Still, the proper relationship between academic fields is a long-standing issue in higher education. In the United States, higher education has had multiple goals since the second half of the nineteenth century, when federal legislation under the Morrill Act created the nation’s land-grant universities to provide practical education in agriculture and the mechanical arts (Morrill Act, 1862). At the same time, higher education in the United States has functioned in a purposeful, distinctive, and cohesive way, uniquely emphasizing liberal education alongside practical education as nations elsewhere in the world have not done. Creation of land-grant universities did not supplant liberal education or its twentieth-century successor, general education. Indeed, the language of the Morrill Act states: “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the
2 See https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education. (Accessed August 17, 2017).
mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life” (U.S.C. Title 7, Chapter 13, Subchapter I, §304). Liberal education, via general education, has run constantly through curricula of all types of institutions, from community colleges to the most elite universities.
In the late nineteenth century, as industrialization contributed to the rise of disciplines, the model of the German research university influenced the design of universities in the United States (Bonner, 1963; Diehl, 1978; Turner and Bernard, 1993; Wolken, n.d.). Where liberal education had previously constituted all of higher education, it now split from emerging specialized disciplines. Yet American higher education retained the goal of integration in the form of “general education,” a term used to describe study in the arts and sciences—or synonymously, the “liberal arts.” General education distribution requirements were intended to work by accretion, adding exposure to multiple art and science disciplines to the education of the major. Educators assumed that the integration would occur as students encountered a breadth of knowledge through general education together with the in-depth study of their majors (Gaff, 1991, pp. 32–63).
For over a century, then, curricula have generally sought to balance a specialized, practical education for workforce development with a general, liberal education that can contribute to an enlightened and engaged citizenry and a well-functioning democracy. As the influential Harvard report “General Education in a Free Society” put it, “the aim of education should be to prepare an individual to become an expert both in some particular vocation or art and in the general art of the free man and the citizen” (Conant, 1950). This goal has been embraced at all levels of higher education. Community colleges, for example, have come to recognize the value of a broad, liberal education for even the most practically oriented degrees (Albertine, 2012; David, 2015).
However, as both specialized majors and general education courses have come to be controlled by particular disciplines and departments, they have tended to evolve in the direction of specialization. Institutions of higher education both shaped and were shaped by this move toward increasing specialization. The expansion of federal investment in research since the end of World War II—and competition among academic fields for those resources—has contributed to the solidification of disciplinary boundaries and associated rationales for specialization in higher education.
In 1959 C. P. Snow famously lamented that the divisions between the sciences and the arts and humanities, which he described as “two cultures,” were a rift of our own making. “The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups,” he wrote (Snow, 1959, p. 3). However, fields as disparate as aesthetics, ethics, mathematics,
and natural philosophy have been conjoined domains of inquiry for at least two millennia. The rise of distinct disciplines is relatively recent. Not until the early nineteenth century was the term “scientist” coined by William Whewell to refer specifically to one whose vocation is inquiry into nature (Secord, 2014, pp. 105–107). It is something of an irony that Michael Faraday, who rejected this term and instead described himself as a “natural philosopher,” is today almost universally referred to as a scientist (Secord, 2014, p. 105). The anachronistic application of the term is an index of how the idea that there are two separate and irreconcilable cultures is taken for granted.
When science was incorporated into liberal education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was done in the name of holistic education that would prepare young people for participation in civic life (Science, 2014). With the rise of increasingly segregated disciplines, this holistic sense of liberal education has attenuated: to use the metaphor given to us by Einstein, there has been greater emphasis on the individual branches than the tree as a whole. For instance, notions of “literacy” (e.g., of “science literacy” or “arts literacy”) emphasize acquisition of basic competency within specific domains of knowledge, rather than affirming the older and, arguably, deeper and more demanding aspiration to educate individuals through exposure to the full sweep of human knowledge in the name of “liberating” them by engendering the capacities of critical reasoning, reflection, and engagement.
Scientific and technological specialization both benefited from and contributed to the increasing segregation of the disciplines. To give just one example, as engineering fields have expanded, spun off new subfields, and become progressively more specialized, undergraduate engineering degree requirements have grown in parallel (see “The Disciplinary Segregation of Higher Education” later in the chapter). With the emphasis on specialization and thorough coverage of an ever-burgeoning field of knowledge, undergraduate engineering majors enter the workforce with an expansive set of specific technical skills (Stephan, 2002). But, as a consequence, students have less space in their undergraduate careers to gain exposure to other fields and, thus, to other ways of seeing, understanding, and addressing problems, whether within or beyond engineering.
Similar trends are evident across many fields and majors, including the arts and humanities. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, called for a “fundamental rethinking of professional training” back in 2000 (Botstein, 2000, p. 332). He acknowledged that more skilled and virtuosic musicians are alive now than ever in history, yet what is missing is not technique and expertise but interpretative and musical expression. He recommended that conservatories reorient their curricula toward a liberal education and interdisciplinary
studies between music and other fields, such as mathematics, history, and psychology. Botstein posits that, by doing so, students will “deepen their musical skills and widen their curiosity and intellectual horizons.”
As specialization has spread and majors have competed for students, programs of study in the majors have tended to add additional layers (and requirements), treating general knowledge (to say nothing of the integration of this knowledge) as the responsibility of the custodians of general education requirements. As general education lost ground to specialization over the past century, it has often taken the form of superficial exposure to a smattering of disciplinary approaches whose relationships and relevance to one another are rarely made clear to students (AAC&U, 2007; Association of American Colleges, 1994).
Even as this trend of increasing specialization was under way, shifts in U.S. demographics, dispute over the meaning and purpose of liberal education, and pressure from employers drove institutional leaders to propose curricular reforms, including reforms to general education. In 1991, Jerry G. Gaff wrote a careful analysis called “The Curriculum Under Fire” for New Life for the College Curriculum (Gaff, 1991) that laid out the grounds of the battle then being fought and argued for reform. In 1994, what was then the Association of American Colleges published Strong Foundations: Twelve Principles for Effective General Education Programs (Association of American Colleges, 1994), which made the case for the revival of general education because so much ground had been lost since the 1970s to the specialized majors. By the late 1990s, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) had launched a project titled Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College (AAC&U, 2002) and shortly thereafter published a national report by the same title that called for a “dramatic reorganization of undergraduate education to ensure that all college aspirants receive not just access to college but an education of lasting value (AAC&U, 2002, vii).
Today, public discourse continues to reflect a tension over whether higher education should primarily be considered a path to educated citizenship or employment, with surveys demonstrating that most Americans view higher education as a path to a “good job”(Gallup and Purdue University, 2014). This focus on preparation for employment has come to be associated with disciplinary specialization. As many people have come to see higher education more as a private commodity than a public good, states have invested less money in higher education and have increasingly linked resources to demonstrated employability of graduates (The Lincoln Project, 2015).3 This has created pressure at many institutions to promote
3 See https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/publication.aspx?d=21942. (Accessed August 17, 2017).
skills and training that are considered more likely to lead to immediate job placement, which has led to a perceived need for greater specialization. This trend has reinforced a view of higher education as largely a path for workforce preparation, contrary to the historical mission of institutions for higher learning to also prepare students for life and productive citizenship. At the same time, the value proposition of American higher education has become less apparent to a large percentage of the population (Gallup and Purdue University, 2015; Pew Research Center, 2011). Many Americans are struggling to understand the return on investment in a college education as they weigh the rising cost, which far outpaces inflation, with the fact that more and more employers are requiring a postsecondary degree for jobs that did not previously require one.4
But as other sections of this chapter will demonstrate, evidence suggests that employers, students, and proponents of liberal education now have greater agreement on many of the desired learning outcomes from higher education. Perhaps the tension between preparation for career, on the one hand, and preparation for life and civic engagement, on the other, is abating.
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
—Woodrow Wilson, 1909 Address to the NYC High School Teachers’ Association
No discussion of the history of higher education would be complete without an acknowledgment of how historical inequities in access to higher education in the United States are reflected today. Women, people with disabilities, and population groups that include African Americans, Latinos, and indigenous peoples have not participated equitably in the arts, humanities, and science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) fields.5 As this committee considered the evidence of the benefits of integrative learning in the arts, humanities, and STEMM subjects in the aggregate, we likewise sought evidence of the benefits of integrative learn-
4 See http://burning-glass.com/research/credentials-gap/. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
5 Digest of Educational Statistics: Table 322.30. Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity and field of study: 2013–14 and 2014–15. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_322.30.asp. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
ing to groups of people who have been historically underserved by higher education. The committee contends that any new movement in higher education must ensure that it prepares all students to prosper economically, contribute civically, and flourish personally.
Improving the representation of women and minorities in STEM subjects is a national priority. In February 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reported the following:
Although women and members of minority groups now constitute approximately 70 percent of college students, they are underrepresented among students receiving undergraduate degrees in STEM subjects (approximately 45 percent). These students are an “underrepresented majority” that must be part of the route to excellence. Members of this group leave STEM majors at higher rates than others and offer an expanding pool of untapped talent. The underrepresented majority is a large underutilized source of potential STEM professionals and deserves special attention. (PCAST, 2012, p. 5)
Issues of equity and diversity in higher education intersect with the goals of disciplinary integration in two major ways. First, the committee found instances in which, either implicitly or explicitly, the goals of disciplinary integration are to make connections between STEMM fields and other disciplines so that STEMM subjects (and hopefully STEMM careers) become more appealing to groups traditionally underrepresented, and at times actively excluded, from STEMM fields. Because traditional STEMM pedagogies have been shown to discourage women and people of color from pursuing STEMM majors and careers (Byars-Winston et al., 2010; PCAST, 2012), some courses and programs that integrate the humanities, arts, and STEMM fields aim to expand the pedagogical repertoire of STEMM courses and programs. In Chapter 6 of this report, we review the limited, though encouraging, evidence on the impact of such efforts on women and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
Second, the committee observed that the topic of integration relates to arguments for the value of cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity is characterized by the human capacities to form an array of perspectives and to take different cognitive approaches within fields of intellectual endeavor. Engaging diverse intellectual and cognitive perspectives has distinct benefits (Hong and Page, 2004). Differing minds and differing backgrounds can offer a wider variety of angles on a problem and can predict a wider array of outcomes than is likely to emerge from a homogeneous group or perspective. Economist Scott Page and colleagues have demonstrated that groups of cognitively diverse agents are better at problem solving and make more accurate predictions than individuals or homogeneous groups (Hong and Page, 2004). Extrapolating on the research of Page and others,
some argue that an integrative approach to education has value because it can facilitate cognitive diversity among individuals and groups. A person with an integrative education is likely to have experiences working with a diversity of persons and a diversity of ideas and mindsets, which has been associated with positive outcomes. Diversity in higher education encourages critical thinking, challenges practitioners to consider multiple points of view; promotes teamwork across disciplinary boundaries; encourages an appreciation of differences in background, training, and aptitudes; and highlights the importance of the contexts in which education, work, and citizenship develop and are displayed (Allen et al., 2005; Bowman, 2010; Curșeu and Pluut, 2013).
In theory, disciplinary integration demands similar forms of boundary crossing. It invites students to learn with, across, and among the many people who teach and study at the intersections, and at the margins, of disciplines and fields. It promotes interplay and intersection among heuristics and epistemologies. Attention to diversity shapes the understanding of integration and interdisciplinary work. It increases the odds that the following questions will be asked: Who is defining the problems? Who is devising their solutions? How are the benefits and potential disparities of solutions distributed across groups?
However, in order to ensure equitable access to any learning experience, including integrative learning experiences, it is important to acknowledge the influence of the rising cost of college on who in our society may benefit from higher education and from which institutional types. As the Woodrow Wilson quote that opens this section of the report acknowledges, underserved groups have historically been driven by financial and societal pressures into more workforce-oriented educational pathways. Fortunately, as this report will demonstrate, the committee found that integrative models of higher education have emerged at almost all institutional types, including many of the community colleges and technical schools that serve a large proportion of the nation’s underserved and underrepresented students (see Chapter 6). To the extent that integrative approaches to higher education are beneficial to students, the adoption of these approaches to education by a wide range of institutional types is an important step toward ensuring that these benefits are shared equitably.
Today there is a widely held belief that colleges and universities have become “siloed” along disciplinary lines such that faculty from different disciplines rarely interact, and students are thought to take most of their courses within the discipline of their declared major. Though existing data on the courses students are taking today in higher education are not
granular enough to permit an analysis of the extent of this siloing, certain internal and external pressures are placed on universities that, the committee observed, are likely to drive disciplinary segregation and serve as barriers to integration.
Take, for example, the external influence of professional societies and the accreditation process. Professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society and the American Physical Society develop standards for certified degree programs, which in turn influence how accreditation bodies appraise degree programs in these disciplines. Accrediting bodies such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the Higher Learning Commission have specific standards for accreditation of programs based on disciplinary constraints. For instance, ABET lists accreditation standards for 28 different categories of engineering, many of which have multiple subcategories defined as well. Institutions build their expectations for fully accredited programs based on these standards, which influences the makeup of the curriculum. In some cases, this has the effect of narrowing a student’s curriculum along disciplinary lines. For example, engineering programs often include so many required courses that there is very limited space in the curriculum for students to study in disciplines outside of engineering (ABET, 2018).
Accreditation requirements also contribute to disciplinary segregation by influencing teaching practices. A recent change to faculty qualifications from the Higher Learning Commission requires faculty to have a minimum of 18 graduate-level hours in the specific content of a subdiscipline in order to be considered qualified to teach.6 It is unclear how this standard would be applied to faculty teaching an integrated course.
It is also important to note how structural features of certain colleges and universities shape or restrict course-taking. At many large universities, students apply to a college within the university (such as the college of business, college of engineering, college of arts and sciences, college of education, etc.), which has its own curriculum and course distribution requirements. While it may be possible to take courses in the other colleges, the initial choice of a college within the university effectively determines the courses available to a student. Although there is some ability to change colleges within large universities, the initial choice of college restricts the kinds of courses that one can take to a much greater extent than, for instance, in a liberal arts college, where the selection of a major can come later and there is greater freedom to explore different fields.
Within institutions, traditional disciplinary control of faculty positions and of promotion and tenure requirements can also be a significant bar-
6 See http://download.hlcommission.org/FacultyGuidelines_2016_OPB.pdf. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
rier to integration. Because tenure requirements tend to be determined and enforced by the disciplines, the expectations set for tenure and promotion by discipline-based faculty may be ill suited to evaluate faculty who work between and across disciplines. For example, the professional pressure to publish in peer-reviewed, high-profile journals often prevents faculty from publishing their work in journals of interdisciplinary studies, which are often considered less prestigious, even if their work might be a good fit for such publications (Jacobs and Frickel, 2009). Rather, faculty will feel pressure to prioritize research and scholarship that can be published in the high-impact journals associated with specific disciplines. Further, an individual’s ability to be considered for jobs at other colleges or universities is largely determined by the ease with which a department can recognize the worth and value of prior research done by that person, this often made more difficult if an applicant’s work straddles multiple departments (Jacobs and Frickel, 2009). In addition, teaching assignments and expectations often cover the disciplinary teaching first, and time and effort may not be permitted for more innovative, integrated teaching that falls outside the discipline/department. Even when integrated teaching and research are permitted, faculty rooted in more traditional disciplines may not ascribe as much value to those activities. While there may not be overt discrimination, the pressure to conform may make the integrative faculty member uncomfortable and less inclined to pursue scholarship and teaching across disciplines (Calhoun and Rhoten, 2010; Jasanoff, 2010).
In addition, decentralized budget models, such as responsibility-centered management, where funding for teaching flows primarily to disciplines and specific colleges, promote greater disciplinarity in higher education and make it difficult to develop and maintain interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and integrated courses and programs. Crossing boundaries of disciplines requires a conscious effort by administrators to provide incentives and support for integration (Wilson, 2002).
Other stakeholders also have input into the process of planning new programs and curricula. Besides the obvious faculty presence in program development, colleges and universities must answer to advisory boards and governing boards as they consider changes to programs. Movement toward more integrative programs will likely require that program planners communicate to governing bodies the relationship between an integrative program and the learning outcomes and skills students need to be successful in an evolving world. Similarly, the shift toward more integrated curricula will demand multistakeholder discussion of the criteria for accreditation.
At community colleges, there is an additional level of pressure to silo the disciplines that comes from the federal financial aid process, particu-
larly the Pell Grant, and its effect on the community college curriculum.7 There has been a strong effort to put policy in place to ensure that a greater number of students who begin their degree program, whether it be a 2-year associate of applied science (AAS) degree or a 2+2 associate of science (AS) transfer program, will complete the program within a reasonable time period. While some believe that these regulations were devised to discourage “Pell runners” (students who move from major to major or college to college to maximize the eligibility for financial aid that is not likely being used to support their education), there has also been a concern that poor advising—at the family, high school, and college levels—has led to too many community college students “wasting” credits by taking courses that do not transfer to a 4-year program. For these reasons, continued eligibility for financial aid requires that a student makes satisfactory academic progress, which entails specific timeline restrictions—currently that a student finish their program within 150 percent of the program plan (e.g., by 6 years for a 4-year bachelor’s degree). In order to ensure that these students have the greatest potential to complete their program, many community colleges are requiring students to declare their program of study immediately upon matriculation, after which point students receiving aid can take only courses that are listed as part of the program. These restrictions, while intended to improve student success, have the unintended consequences of both inhibiting student exploration and limiting any creativity in the community college curriculum. Unless an integrated course has been carefully mapped to the learning goals of the disciplines integrated, and unless the receiving institutions have predetermined that an integrated course meets their requirements for general education, these kinds of non-discipline-specific courses would not be accessible to students receiving federal aid.
Additionally, more and more states are moving to a community college transfer model in which the community college is set up to mirror the first 2 years of the state 4-year baccalaureate programs. For example, the 2-year University of Wisconsin (UW) Colleges have been part of the University of Wisconsin System since 1971, granting associate of arts and sciences degrees and an array of transfer pathways to the UW universities. And in Connecticut, the students who take a Transfer Ticket degree program can transfer to one of the Connecticut State Universities without losing credits or having to take additional credits. The Texas public college and university system is another example. Texas requires the 42-hour Texas Core Curriculum (TCC) for students at all public institutions. TCC core objectives
7 See https://www.fastweb.com/financial-aid/articles/can-a-student-be-cut-off-from-financial-aid-after-taking-too-many-credits. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
and component areas are shared and aligned across institutions, a design intended to facilitate transfer.8
In order for such programs to prepare students for success at the transfer institution, and to maintain levels of quality in learning, community college courses are often aligned or matched with courses at state universities, sometimes using the same course number and syllabus. These programmatic and financial aid structures have been created with the best of intentions, to create the best possible scenario for program completion. But by their very nature, they limit options for interdisciplinary course and curriculum design and unintentionally support a more siloed structure that is easy to match and monitor.9
However, while these strict financial aid and program structures limit the opportunities to integrate STEM and the arts and humanities in the 2 + 2 transfer programs, they actually have the potential to open up opportunities in the terminal two-year AAS programs. In an effort to streamline the general education component of these degrees, these types of integrative classes are often already a component of those programs. For example, in the AAS degrees at Mid Michigan Community College, students are required to take three 200-level integrative general education courses—Integrative Science (SCI 200), Integrative Humanities (HUM 200), and Integrative Social Sciences (SSC 200)—in addition to math and writing courses. While these courses are merely integrated within the general discipline, for instance the Integrative Science course content includes biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and environmental science, along with a healthy dose of public policy and economics, they have the potential to become much more generally integrative. Because many of the AAS curricula have very little room for additional credits (e.g., the nursing program and the physical therapist assistant (PTA) programs are already longer than 2-year programs), the general education component of the curricula is often forced into a less discipline-specific mode so that students can have the breadth of the general education experience but in a smaller amount of time and within the framework of their program. Community college faculty are starting to look at these time and content challenges as opportunities to create new approaches to general education that more completely integrate the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.10
8 See http://www.uwc.edu/; http://www.ct.edu/transfer/tickets; http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectid=417252EA-B240-62F7-9F6A1A125C83BE08. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
9 See https://www.tccns.org/; https://www.cccs.edu/educator-resources/common-course-numbering-system/; https://www.accs.cc/index.cfm/workforce-development/career-technical-education/course-directory/. (Accessed August 18, 2017).
10 See https://www.midmich.edu/program-guidesheets-2017-18/AAS%20Automotive%20Technology%20-%202017-2018.pdf. (Accessed August 19, 2017).
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
—Alvin Toffler, American Writer and Futurist
Collaborative, critical thinking, and communication skills are valuable in an enormous range of professional domains, particularly in an era where jobs are rapidly changing. One could argue that today, more than ever, graduates need to be adaptable and lifelong learners. Memorization and long-term retention of knowledge hold less of a premium when all content knowledge is ostensibly accessible in the mobile devices in our pockets. In addition, students need to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to find information, analyze it for its validity, understand its application in different circumstances, and communicate it clearly and accurately to others. They need the critical thinking, logical reasoning, and lifelong learning attitudes required to determine whether a news headline on social media is fake and misleading or whether it offers valid and useful information upon which to base a decision. These skills and abilities will serve graduates not only in their lives as citizens and individuals but in their professional pursuits.
Interestingly, U.S. Census Bureau data show that STEM majors and arts, humanities, and social sciences majors often end up in professions that are not directly aligned with their major, and that specific occupations attract students with multiple kinds of academic preparation (see Figure 2-1). These data raise questions about how well a college or university curriculum focused on a specific, disciplinary major will serve students after graduation.
Moreover, graduates should be prepared not only to take a job that does not directly relate to their college major but also to change jobs and careers often throughout their working years, particularly in the years just after graduation. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, the median number of years that younger workers (ages 25–34 years) stayed in a single job was 4.2 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). These data suggest that graduates will be well served by skills and competencies that are transferrable from one job to another, as well as by the ability to be adaptable, lifelong learners who can pick up the new knowledge they may need for each new job.
The need for lifelong learning skills and the ability to view issues from a variety of perspectives is also consistent with emerging evidence about how people learn and how expertise is developed (National Research Council 2000). Research shows that humans construct knowledge and understanding based on previous learning and experience. Evidence from the learning sciences clearly demonstrates that moving learners from being novices to experts requires more than an increase in content knowledge. While this storehouse of knowledge is certainly necessary for building expertise, it is far from sufficient. Beyond possessing a reservoir of content knowledge, experts also have the ability to categorize and sort information, to more readily relate and connect information that novices view as disparate, and to relate that information to newly encountered content, skills, or concepts in ways that novices are incapable of doing. Learning new information is often easier and more rapid for experts when that information fits logical patterns that they are able to construct cognitively. Experts thus build what learning scientists refer to as conceptual frameworks, which allow them to think more deeply about relationships among pieces of information that have already been learned and to better envision how seemingly disconnected information fits with, and is related to, what is already understood. Indeed, helping nonexperts learn by encouraging and actively teaching them how to develop conceptual frameworks may also enable them to learn content more readily because they can then better understand the relevance of that information and its connections with otherwise seemingly disparate facts.
Too often in undergraduate education, expectations for learning, and assessments of learning focus on acquiring a body of content that students see as disconnected or irrelevant to their interests. In this conventional approach to undergraduate education, the “big picture” that ties all of these facts and concepts together may be introduced toward the end of the course (if time permits) or sometimes toward the end of the student’s tenure in college as some kind of “culminating experience.” But proponents of integration argue that helping students integrate and understand the big picture connections between the different courses they take should be a more consistent feature of higher education because it is likely to make learning easier, more relevant, and more engaging. They posit that the multiple ways in which the arts, humanities, and STEMM fields have developed to understand and answer problems can be harnessed to expand the breadth and power of conceptual frameworks. The natural sciences have already recognized the power of seeking answers to large questions through the integra-
tion of multiple disciplines11 (Labov et al., 2010; National Research Council, 2009)—albeit within the STEMM disciplines—and, based on the evidence cited in this report, it appears that these principles of learning could potentially be used to expand all students’ understanding of complex problems through more deliberate integration of the arts, humanities, and STEMM.
Research on how students learn has also demonstrated that well-designed project- and inquiry-based approaches, often called “experiential learning,” increase student learning (Brown et al., 1989; Kuh, 2008). Project-based learning situated in real communities, where students have opportunities to work on open-ended, integrative problems, has been shown to have long-term positive impacts on students, including confidence in their STEM courses, confidence in their jobs, and confidence in their capacity to solve complex problems (Vaz and Quinn, 2014). Significantly, research has found that novelty, unpredictability, and mutability in projects enhances learning, growth, and confidence, and that women and students of color more readily embrace STEM subjects and questions when the material is contextualized (Brunner, 1997; Margolis et al., 2000; Tobias, 1993; Tsui, 2007). Though not all courses and programs that embrace experiential learning integrate the humanities, arts, and STEMM subjects, many do. This may be due, in part, to the fact that many real-world problems have dimensions that are humanistic, scientific, technical, medical, and aesthetic.
Responding to the new scientific knowledge on the ways that people learn, many leaders of general education on campuses are seeking to achieve student learning outcomes that are integrative (see the section of Chapter 6 on within-curriculum integration). They are shifting emphasis from knowledge being provided passively to students through “teaching by telling” to the capacities or abilities that students gain and demonstrate as they learn (Barr and Tagg, 1995). At the same time, integrative and interdisciplinary designs have become an area of focus for college education (Klein, 2010).
THERE IS BROAD AGREEMENT BETWEEN EMPLOYERS AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION ON CERTAIN STUDENT LEARNING GOALS
Surveys of employers and institutions of higher education have demonstrated that there is broad agreement on the types of learning outcomes that all graduates should leave higher education having achieved (Burning Glass Technologies, 2015; Hart Research Associates, 2016). Among those outcomes called for by both employers and higher education institutions are writing and oral communication skills, critical thinking and analytical
reasoning skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.
Shared Goals for Student Learning Among Diverse Institutions of Higher Education
Though higher education in the United States is incredibly diverse, comprising a vast array of different types of institutions that serve a variety of student goals and educational purposes, research has demonstrated that there is broad agreement across this diverse landscape of institutions on certain student learning outcomes. A survey released in 2016 found that nearly all AAC&U member institutions—which constitute a majority of 4-year colleges and universities in the United States—have adopted a common set of learning outcomes for all their undergraduate students (Hart Research Associates, 2016). Shared learning outcomes included writing and oral communication skills; critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills; knowledge of science, the humanities, the arts, mathematics, the social sciences, and global world cultures; ethical reasoning skills; and “integration of learning across disciplines,” among others (Figure 2-2). The survey also found that general education is growing as a priority and that administrators are more likely than they were in 2008 to report an emphasis on the integration of knowledge, skills, and applications. This integrative—or reintegrative—turn of higher education signals a shift to intentional and purposeful learning across knowledge, skills, and personal and social responsibility (National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, 2007).
In 2005, the AAC&U launched its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative (Figure 2-3). The Essential Learning Outcomes of the LEAP initiative are well regarded and frequently used to design undergraduate education. These goals give priority to application, integration, and high-impact learning and emphasize student learning outcomes in inquiry and analysis, critical thinking, teamwork, written and oral communication skills, and ethical reasoning and action, among other learning outcomes (see Figure 2-3). Preparing students for a world of unscripted problems is the goal (AAC&U, 2015). More recently, the LEAP challenge, launched during the AAC&U’s centennial in 2015, invited institutions to make “signature work” a goal for all students.12 Signature work asks students to pursue a significant project of their choosing as part of their college education. Nearly all employers surveyed by AAC&U (89 percent) said that they want to hire graduates who have skills and experience of this kind.13
13 See https://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research/2015-survey-falling-short. (Accessed August 19, 2017).
Certain Student Learning Outcomes Are Broadly Valued by Employers
Given the need for innovation in modern economies, employers know that a variety of employee talents are essential to the competitiveness and growth of their organizations. But recent surveys of employers reveal that they see talent as more than deep technical expertise or familiarity with a particular technology. They are also looking for well-rounded individuals with a holistic education who can comprehend and solve complex problems embedded within sophisticated systems that transcend disciplines;
understand the needs, desires, and motivations of others; and communicate clearly.
An online survey conducted on behalf of the AAC&U found that the majority of employers14 say that both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of other kinds of knowledge and skills are important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success (Hart Research Associates, 2013, 2016). Very few employers indicate that acquiring the knowledge and skills needed primarily for a specific field or position is the best path to long-term success. Employers report that, when hiring, they place the greatest value on demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across all majors. The skills that they rate as most important include the ability to communicate clearly, both in writing and orally, teamwork, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in complex, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary settings. According to employers, this combination of cross-cutting skills is more important to an individual’s success at a company than the major he or she pursued while in college. Similarly, a survey of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni demonstrated that graduates rely more heavily on communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills throughout their careers than the specific technical and engineering skills that they learned as undergraduates (Box 2-1).
A study conducted by Burning Glass, a job market analysis company, reported similar results. Its textual analysis of 25 million job postings aimed at understanding “the essential or baseline skills that employers are demanding across a wide range of jobs” revealed that oral communication, writing, customer service, organizational skills, and problem solving were among the most high-demand skills across a wide range of occupation and career types (Burning Glass Technologies, 2015). The study also categorized the importance of what were termed “baseline skills” and “technical skills” by occupation groups. The results of this analysis speak to the importance of both job-specific technical and baseline skills and the relative importance of these skills by occupation type. Jobs categorized as being within the domains of information technology, engineering, health care, the physical and life sciences, mathematics, and manufacturing require more technical skills than jobs such as sales, marketing, or human resources. However, even among the highly technical fields a quarter to a third of the required skills deemed essential by employers fall within the baseline skills. The results suggest that
14 The 318 employers surveyed by Hart Research Associates were executives at private-sector and nonprofit organizations, including owners, CEOs, presidents, C suite–level executives, and vice presidents, whose organizations have at least 25 employees and report that 25 percent or more of their new hires hold either an associate’s degree from a 2-year college or a bachelor’s degree from a 4-year college.
higher education should equip all students with the baseline skills needed for success in a wide range of occupations and, to the extent possible, cater specific technical instruction to the student’s intended career path (but, as noted in Figure 2-1, students are likely to actually be employed in many sectors besides what they studied in the college major).
Employers also reported that many recent college graduates have not achieved the kinds of learning outcomes that they view as important. This is especially the case for applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings, critical thinking, and written and oral communication. In these areas, less than 30 percent of employers think that students are well prepared. Greater than 80 percent of employers feel that colleges and universities need to improve in helping graduates gain cross-cutting skills and knowledge. Large majorities of employers also indicate that various types of applied and engaged learning experiences—such as a comprehensive senior project, a collaborative research project, a research-based or applied field-based experience with people from other backgrounds, or a community-based or service learning project—would help applicants build the cross-cutting skills they are seeking and thereby positively influence their hiring decisions. A Gallup poll of U.S. business leaders from 2014 confirms these findings, concluding that both the applied skills and the amount of knowledge a job candidate has in a field are more important factors in hiring decisions than where a candidate attended school or the candidate’s major (Calderon and Sidhu, 2014).
IBM has described the image for the kinds of workers employers say they want as the “T-shaped” employee—someone who combines depth of understanding in a particular field with the broad set of competencies needed to apply that understanding (IBM, 2009). Though this is a compelling and popular image that is consistent with an integrative approach to higher education, the problem with this image, in the committee’s opinion, is its implication that depth and breadth are somehow separable and orthogonal, whereas in fact they work together seamlessly in the most productive and innovative employees. The committee envisions integration as more akin to a caduceus than a “T”. In the caduceus, the breadth of learning that comes from exposure to multiple forms of knowledge continually interacts with and supports the development of depth.
Other groups of employers conceive of the need for a range of skills and competencies as “capability platforms.” A task force of the organization STEM Connector, consisting of more than 30 leaders from industry, government, education, and the nonprofit sectors, identified four capability platforms that members of the STEM workforce need to be successful: digital fluency, innovation excellence, “employability” skills, and discipline-specific skills (STEM Innovation Task Force, 2014). The task force defined “employability skills” as a discipline-independent set of competencies and behaviors that all employers expect from their employees (STEM Innovation Task Force, 2015). These skills include teamwork, communication, reliability, and flexibility (the ability to understand and adapt to new ideas). Career-focused experiential learning—including problem-based learning, internships, team competitions, and all forms of work experience—is an
especially effective way to build these skills, the task force observed, and this problem-based learning is often interdisciplinary in nature. As one business leader quoted in the task force’s report said, “When you look at the types of problems that are out there today, these require people from different disciplines to come together to be able to solve them” (p. 17). This is not to say that technical skills are unimportant, rather that technical skills alone are insufficient.
Developing the broad set of skills desired by employers requires more than intensive study in a particular discipline during college. It requires exposure to multiple fields, practice to build employability skills, and experience with communication and collaboration. When the American Historical Association convened focus groups of Ph.D. historians who had found jobs beyond traditional academic positions, they agreed that the following five skills are necessary to be successful:
- communication, in a variety of media and to a variety of audiences
- collaboration, especially with people who might not share your worldview
- quantitative literacy, a basic ability to understand and communicate information presented in quantitative form
- intellectual self-confidence, the ability to work beyond subject matter expertise, to be nimble and imaginative in projects and plans
- digital literacy, a basic familiarity with digital tools and platforms
No one academic discipline is most adept at cultivating all five of these skills.
Likewise, findings from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) survey, which is administered to more than 140,000 arts alumni nationally, indicates that students are receiving unparalleled training in art techniques but arts training is also encouraging experimentation, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. Recent alumni who responded to the SNAAP survey articulated many ways that this approach to arts training assists them in their work lives and contributes to their health and well-being, their relationships with others, their ability to collaborate and provide constructive criticism, and their ability to creatively solve problems. Arts graduates often see themselves as leaders at work and in their communities. Further,
although arts graduates are warned that they will struggle to find employment after graduation and that their employment may not make use of their skill set, many graduates find work in the discipline of their training. On average, almost 7 of every 10 currently employed arts graduates described their current jobs as “relevant” or “very relevant” to their training (specifically, 64 percent of recent alumni and 69 percent of all alumni)—a
greater percentage than graduates from journalism, accounting, or biology majors. (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 2014, p. 23)
As noted earlier, many of these skills overlap with the “essential learning outcomes” identified by AAC&U’s LEAP initiative, including critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving, quantitative literacy, written and oral communication, and integrative and applied learning. These are outcomes that employers and educators, including faculty from the arts, humanities, and STEM fields, agree that all students should gain from higher education (see Figure 2-3) (AAC&U, 2007).
Hiring patterns also lend support to the idea that employers value a broadly based education. A study by LinkedIn revealed that the growth of employees with undergraduate degrees outside of science and engineering who entered the technology sector between 2010 and 2013 exceeded computer science and engineering majors by 10 percent (Ma, 2015). Today, about 10 percent of graduates with majors other than science and engineering are going into the technology sector, including about one in seven of those who graduate from the top 20 colleges and universities in the United States (Ma, 2015).15
In summary, the skills, knowledge, and abilities that employers want are consistent with the goals of many institutions of higher education. Chapter 6 presents evidence that certain integrative approaches are associated with student outcomes that are consistent with these shared learning goals, including higher-order thinking, content mastery of complex concepts, enhanced communication and teamwork skills, and increased motivation and enjoyment of learning.
On some measures, polls of what students want from higher education correspond with employers’ desires. According to an online survey of 613 college students—all of whom were ages 18 to 29 and within a year of obtaining a degree, or in the case of 2-year college students, within a year of obtaining a degree or transferring to a 4-year college—more than four in five students say that doing well in their college studies and getting a good job are very important to them personally (giving the goals a rating of 8, 9, or 10 on a scale from 0 to 10). Students also know that they need knowledge and skills beyond those of a specific field or major to achieve success, with 63 percent indicating that both field-specific knowledge and a
15 See https://blog.linkedin.com/2015/08/25/you-dont-need-to-know-how-to-code-to-make-it-in-silicon-valley. (Accessed August 21, 2017).
broad range of skills are important.16 The skills and knowledge they identify as important include those that cut across majors, including the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings, written and oral communication, teamwork, and ethical decision making (Hart Research Associates, 2016). Further, 84 percent of students say that thinking creatively is an important or very important skill to learn in college, and 92 percent say that a career that allows them to be creative is important (The Teagle Foundation, 2017).
On other measures, however, college students are notably out of sync with employers. Surveys demonstrate that university administrators and students feel confident that higher education is preparing graduates for the workplace, while most employers do not. According to a poll conducted by Gallup for the Lumina Foundation, 96 percent of chief academic officers at higher education institutions say their institution is “very or somewhat” effective at preparing students for the world of work (Busteed, 2014). However, only 14 percent of Americans strongly agree that college graduates are well prepared for success in the workplace, and barely 1 in 10 business leaders strongly agrees that college graduates have the skills and competencies that their workplaces need.
The interest of college students in a broadly based education is reflected in the courses they are taking. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports a 37 percent increase in the number of students majoring in multi-/interdisciplinary studies between 2008–2009 and 2013–2014 (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Another indication of growing interest in integrative education is the growing number of health humanities programs. From 2000 to 2016, the number of health humanities programs more than quadrupled, increasing from 14 to 57, with another 5 known programs currently in development. Increased enrollments in undergraduate public health programs, many of which pursue liberal arts outcomes, reveal a similar interest (Leider et al., 2015). Further, among the most popular majors at Stanford University is the major in science, technology, and society, through which students explore “what science and technology make of the world and what the world makes of science and technology” and take both technical courses in science and technology and courses in which they “study the social and historical context of science and technology, involving their global, ethical, political, organizational, economic, and legal dimensions.”17
16 See https://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research/2015-students (Accessed August 21, 2017).
An approach to higher education that favors increasing specialization may not be well suited to today’s challenges. When well-engineered technologies fail, for example, the root cause is often failures of empathy and imagination, not flaws in technical design (see Box 2-2). Conversely, the most successful products tend to marry mastery of technical design with functional or aesthetic insights about what people find useful, desirable, and beautiful.
In a world being transformed by technology, innovation is a key to economic success. As a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, 2017, p. 12) pointed out,
The growth of global manufacturing competition has pressured companies to distinguish themselves on features other than price, volume, speed, and quality. In some industries, particularly in steel, cotton, tobacco, coal, and electronics, companies outside of the U.S. are able to outcompete American firms on these criteria, which motivates U.S. firms to find other ways of increasing their market share and corporate value. The ability to innovate has become a major differentiator, with industrial design as one of the key means by which companies are innovating today.
THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PARTICIPATION IN THE ARTS AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE
Another rationale for the integration of disciplines is the notion that the integration of knowledge promotes innovative thinking that can lead to significant scientific breakthroughs. Evidence for this assertion comes in the form of strong correlations between participation in the arts and individual excellence in science, engineering, and medicine, as well as historical examples that document how breakthroughs in science have been inspired by analogies provided by the arts.
Like Einstein, many of the great minds in science, engineering, and medicine have subscribed to the idea that all knowledge is connected and have actively participated in the arts and humanities alongside their scientific pursuits. For example, the work of Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein has shown very strong correlations between leadership in science and engagement with arts and crafts avocations. In a 2008 study, Bernstein and colleagues found that very accomplished scientists, including Nobel Laureates, National Academy of Sciences members, and Royal Society members, were significantly more likely to engage in arts and crafts and identify as artists than average scientists and the general public (Root-Bernstein et al., 2008). Compared with scientists who are members of Sigma Xi, a society in which any working scientist can be a member, Nobel Laureates were 2 times as likely to be photographers, 4 times as likely to be musicians, 17 times as likely to be artists, 15 times as likely to be crafts people, 25 times as likely to be creative writers, and 22 times as likely to be performers.
The Root-Bernsteins and colleagues have also found that sustained arts and crafts participation correlates with being an entrepreneurial innovator. A study that examined Michigan State University Honors College science
and technology graduates from the period 1990–1995 found that (1) STEM majors are far more likely to have extensive arts and crafts skills than the average American, (2) arts and crafts experiences are significantly correlated with producing patentable inventions and founding new companies, (3) the majority believe that their innovative ability has been stimulated by their arts and crafts knowledge, and (4) lifelong participation and exposure in the arts and crafts yields significant impacts for innovators and entrepreneurs (LaMore et al., 2013). Further, a summit held in 2009 by the Neuro-Education Initiative of the Johns Hopkins School of Education reported that researchers found “tight correlations between arts training and improvements in cognition, attention, and learning.”18
History is full of examples of people who drew upon their talent and passion for science and art to drive new discoveries and advances (Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein, 1999). In his book Music and the Making of Modern Science, Peter Pesic describes how breakthroughs in physical science and mathematics were inspired through musical analogies (Pesic, 2014). For example, Kepler’s Third Law emerged from his search to describe the polyphony of the planets. Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction while investigating Wheatstone’s novel musical/sonic devices, Newton imposed the musical scale on colors, and Helmholtz developed alternative geometric “spaces” in response to his work on music and vision. Interestingly, history also points to examples of artists contributing to scientific and technological breakthroughs. To cite just a few examples, composers Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky invented the Kodachrome Color Film process, sculptor Patricia Billings invented “geobond” while trying to improve plaster, and artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey revolutionized plant nutrient screening through painting.
While these case studies and correlational studies are very interesting and do suggest a relationship between participation in the arts and scientific and entrepreneurial accomplishment, Bernstein and others point out that correlation should not be confused with causation. It might be the case that arts training makes for better scientists and entrepreneurs, but it might also be the case that Nobel Laureates who are concert pianists are simply extraordinary human beings, or alternatively, had more privileged and resourced upbringings than others.
We cannot say with any certainty that an education that integrates the arts with the STEMM subjects will necessarily lead to new foundational breakthroughs in science, engineering, and medicine. However, one can reasonably argue that an educational approach that teaches students to see the disciplines as distinct and nonoverlapping domains may discourage the
18 See http://www.steam-notstem.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Neuroeducation.pdf. (Accessed August 21, 2017).
boundary crossing that has been characteristic of some of humanity’s most significant contributors to the advancement of knowledge. As such, curricula that cleave too tightly to a single discipline may hamstring the ability of students to think beyond the limits of what has already been thought, to achieve new forms of creative innovation, and thereby to better understand and address the challenges of the moment.
This chapter presented an overview of some of today’s most pressing challenges and opportunities in higher education, including the following:
- The need to achieve more effective forms of capacity building for twenty-first-century workers and citizens. The nature of work requires that graduates acquire a broad base of skills from across the disciplines that can be flexibly deployed in different work environments across a lifetime. These skills overlap with the demands of citizenship, which require capacities to reflect upon and engage with questions of public import in an informed way. In a world where science and technology are major drivers of social change, historical, ethical, aesthetic, and cultural competencies are more crucial than ever. At the same time, the complex and often technical nature of contemporary issues in democratic governance demands that well-educated citizens have an appreciation of the nature of technical knowledge and of its historical, cultural, and political roles in American democracy.
- The need to draw on the untapped potential for innovation and collaboration within and beyond the university. The complex social, technological, and environmental problems of our historical moment demand creative solutions that are humane, technically robust, and elegant. Giving students broader repertoires for critical thinking and creative innovation has the potential not only to create a workforce and polity that can effectively confront these problems but also to uncover points of connection and synergy within and beyond academia that may prove generative. In short, a commitment to a more integrated education has the potential to push the “multiversity” itself toward reintegrating into a university.
- The need to cultivate more robust cultural and ethical commitments to empathy, inclusion, and respect for the rich diversity of human identity and experience. Truly robust knowledge depends on the capacity to recognize the critical limitations of particular ways of knowing, to achieve the social relations appropriate to an inclusive and democratic society, and to cultivate due humil-
ity. These commitments are as essential to productive professional environments as they are to wider civic life. They are also critical to creating shared aspirations of the futures we want and to cultivating the forms of inquiry, innovation, and creative expression that will help build those futures.
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