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Research On The Selective Liberal Arts College In The United States Of America

Posted on:2010-05-23Degree:DoctorType:Dissertation
Country:ChinaCandidate:C C WangFull Text:PDF
GTID:1117360302471141Subject:Higher Education
Abstract/Summary:PDF Full Text Request
Liberal arts college was the pioneer of American higher education and is a distinctively American unit even in the world higher education system, which owns a long history. The liberal arts colleges in this dissertation refer to the independent small colleges in the United States according to Carnegie Classification of American Higher Education Institutions (2000), which usually share the following characteristics: keeping the tradition of liberal arts education, focus on undergraduate education, emphasis on teaching more than on research, small size, practicing residential system, employing selective admission policy, and more than 50% conferred bachelor degrees being from liberal arts field. The good practices in undergraduate education in the liberal arts colleges are regarded as the model of American undergraduate education.What is going on in the liberal arts college? How do they practice undergraduate education? Why do they do it in that way ? What's the implication for China's undergraduate education? In order to answer these questions, The author spends four months (an academic semester) in a most selective liberal arts college in U.S.A----Macalester College doing the "field research", tries to explore the essence, connotation, method and approaches of the liberal arts education practiced within the context of a liberal arts college, through the perspective of Cultural Anthropology that requires implementing participant observation, interview and evidence in the field research, and hopefully provides some suggestions for the undergraduate education in China especially in those key universities.After reviewing the related literatures on liberal arts college and liberal education in the first chapter, the author introduced the brief history of liberal arts colleges, as well as the challenges that they are confronting and the response that they take in the second chapter. In the main body of the dissertation, that is Chapter 3, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, the author described, analyzed and interpreted what happened to/around the students and the faculty of Macalester College, as well as the educational environment where the main actors and actresses—the students and faculty, play their roles. In Chapter 6, the author made some conclusions on the essence, connotation, characteristics and properties of the liberal arts education practiced within the context of a selective liberal arts college, with the support of Astin's Student Involvement Theory, as well as Pascrarelle and Kuh's research findings.In Chapter 3, the author described what happened to the student, such as the admission policy and procedure, major, curriculum, study away, graduation requirement, commencement, alumni relations, and so on. In Chapter 4, the author described what happened to the faculty, such as faculty employment, tenure review, faculty governance, teaching philosophy and approach, teaching process, and so on, by exemplifying some cases. In Chapter 5, the author described the educational environment that featured liberal arts colleges, through the following three aspects, namely, culture and climate of the college, physical environment, and the organization and its system, which can be characterized with positive and supportive sense of community that aims at improving students' involvement and engagement.In the last Chapter, Chapter 6, the author made the following 3 conclusions.First, in terms of the concept of "liberal arts education", the author argues that it's necessary to define it in a holistic way, and especially necessary to understand it within a concrete context, instead of defining it in a general way. According to the linguistic formula, "meaning=word+context", the author tries to explore the "meaning" of "liberal arts education" through thoroughly and systematically describing and analyzing the learning, teaching, as well as the educational environment within the context of a selective "liberal arts college" , and finds that it's necessary to contain the following three elements in order to define and understand liberal arts education practiced within the contemporary liberal arts college: (1) the tradition and educational mission of the college, which emphasize on mind training and intelligence instead of vocational training; (2) curriculum structure and educational environment, which promotes the integration of students' learning and living experience on campus, focus on students' involvement and engagement into formal and informal educational activities in and outside campus, and encourages the interactions between students and faculty, and among students; (3) public spirit, which includes the altruism, social responsibilities, and leadership. All the above three elements must co-exit to illuminate the contemporary connotation of liberal arts education. In one word, the undergraduate education found in the current liberal arts colleges in the United States aims at cultivating and training students' mind, tries to cultivate students' intelligence, social responsibility and leadership through creating positive and supportive community to increase students' involvement and engagement into all kinds of educational environment.The second conclusion is that, the undergraduate education practiced in the selective liberal arts college in the United States is a kind of elite higher education in a modern democratic society. The reasons are as follow: first, liberal arts colleges are not only small, which enrolled comparatively fewer students than other kinds of higher education institutions, but also have a very small share in American higher education system, therefore this kind of education is still provided for a small amount of people. Secondly, in terms of the educational objects, selective liberal arts colleges aim at cultivating social leaders who have global perspectives and can serve society. Thirdly, in terms of the educational process, the education that selective liberal arts colleges provided is highly individual, and especially focuses on the personal development of students as individual. Finally, according to the educational outcome, most of the graduates of liberal arts colleges go into graduate school or college to receive further education, and obtains PhD in many fields later, which shares a quite high percentage compared with some other kinds of higher education institutions, or become some kind of leaders in many different fields.The third conclusion is that, the undergraduate education practiced in the selective liberal arts college in the United States is a kind of fundamental education within the higher education system. This is because that, first, the majors and curriculum are mainly from the liberal arts field, which is indeed very basic and fundamental subjects according to the knowledge development history and the ecology of disciplines; second, the liberal arts education implemented in the liberal arts colleges focuses on mind training instead of specific vocational training, encourages students to learn how to live instead of how to make a living, therefore is a kind of fundamental education that looks to future; finally, most of the graduates go on to receive further education in the graduate school or college, and then become certain kind of leaders in different field, thus, this kind of education can be regarded as the basic education during the process of cultivating social elites.There are mainly three contributions in this dissertation:First, this dissertation employs a new research method—Cultural Anthropology perspective, to define an old education concept—liberal arts education—by describing many facts within a context which is a contemporary typical liberal arts college, which is obviously different from the previous research on this topic.Second, this dissertation provides lots of first-hand materials. This is the first research on liberal arts college by using this research method in China. Many details on the college and its education are provided in this research through participant observation, interview and evidence, which is not only good for further and fully understanding American higher education especially the elite undergraduate education, but also offers solid foundation for further research on liberal arts college for Chinese researcher.Finally, this dissertation has made a new interpretation on the liberal arts education because of the new method and the first-hand materials, which enriches the understanding of liberal arts education and also helpful to understand the general education reform in Chinese universities.There are some limitations in this research, too. First, it is hard for a research apprentice to analyze so many materials that are obtained from the field research due to the author's limitation in related knowledge and analysis ability. Second, there might be lack of depth when interpreting the materials and some phenomenon because this is a kind of cross-culture research which demands really deep understanding of the target culture.
Keywords/Search Tags:Liberal arts college, Liberal arts education, Undergraduate education, Elite education, Involvement and engagement, Sense of community
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