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Four colleges receive joint Teagle Foundation Grant

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Four liberal arts colleges – Converse and Wofford in Spartanburg, the University of North Carolina Asheville and Agnes Scott College in Georgia – jointly have received a $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation to explore ways to access how institutional creativity affects the “value-added” of a liberal arts education.

Most rankings of colleges around the nation are based on quantitative information, such as SAT scores and selectivity. The collaborative would study the “qualitative characteristics” that distinguish liberal arts colleges. “We’re confident that the features that define a ‘creative campus’ significantly contribute to the value of a liberal arts education and are indicative of leading arts institutions,” says Dr. Ellen Goldey, a biology professor at Wofford who spearheaded the grant application.

The grant will be used for a yearlong program that will bring educators and consultants from around the country together to examine best practices in assessing institutional creativity and how those practices affect “learning outcomes.” “Liberal arts colleges should be more purposeful in assessing the characteristics that distinguish our institutions,” Goldey says.

Those “assessable characteristics” include a culture of collaboration among faculty, students and staff; a culture of continuous improvement and innovation; and strong institutional support for those activities. “The evidence we gather will help us define and begin to quantify those qualitative features that make an education from excellent liberal arts institutions like ours so valuable to our students,” she adds.

“Our collaborative represents a unique partnership among Southeastern institutions that, while diverse in type, share an historical and contemporary commitment to providing the highest quality liberal education to our students,” says Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker, vice president of academic affairs at Converse. Wofford is a private co-educational college; Converse and Agnes Scott are private women’s colleges. UNC-Asheville is a public co-ed college.

“Careful reflection about our own unique structures and missions may reveal lessons or approaches applicable to all,” Barker says. “For example, how have women’s colleges, like Converse and Agnes Scott, been intentional in developing the leadership skills of our students? How have religious-affiliated schools like Wofford balanced an atmosphere that honors their historical commitment to the church while celebrating religious and other differences? How have public universities, such as UNC Asheville, been able to leverage faculty and other resources to continue to nurture a true liberal arts environment, given their unique institutional realities?”

The colleges actively participate in national initiatives to improve liberal learning in higher education, and they are eager to expand their involvement, says Dr. James Diedrick, associate dean at Agnes Scott. “We believe that creative campuses host faculties comprised of learners dedicated to their own continuous improvement to be ever better teachers. Our consortium looks forward to sharing innovative faculty development programs that foster this campus ethos.”

Dr. Edward J. Katz, associate chancellor for university programs and professor of literature and language at UNC Asheville, says, “While we differ in many ways, we benefit from being in environments that provide encouragement for our creative efforts, and too often we take this most important feature of our culture for granted. Our financial resources may be limited, but our imaginations are not, and our work will model the same features – collaboration, innovation and support – of creativity that we seek to assess within and among our institutions. We don’t claim to be the most creative liberal arts campuses, but we’re courageous enough to engage in this project to help us attain that ideal.”

Goldey says the collaborative will use the Teagle grant to bring together experts in the field of assessing institutional programs, and will provide opportunities for faculty members, administrators and students from each institution to meet face-to-face to discuss the issues and share ideas. “Institutional assessment should include measures of the qualitative features that make a liberal arts institution such a special place to work and learn. There’s more to our institutions than current assessment techniques reveal, and we’re convinced that this work may help change all that. This yearlong planning process will allow us to lay the groundwork for a broader initiative to assess institutional creativity. We seek to develop a plan that could be used by other liberal arts institutions,” she says, adding that future funding will be sought to implement the plan.