Learning Beyond Measure? Assessing the Liberal Arts

The Seventh Annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts

February 16-17, 2007




Conversation Overview


Liberal arts education is distinct from other approaches to higher education in many ways—its goals, its methods, even the context in which it is offered. Are there ways in which the assessment of liberal arts education must vary accordingly? The seventh annual Conversation on thconvo07e Liberal Arts: "Learning Beyond Measure?" addressed the assessment of liberal arts education. The conference, sponsored by the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, took place at Westmont College , February 16-17, 2007. Representatives from liberal arts colleges and small private universities as well as from accrediting agencies gathered to dialogue about approaches to assessment best suited to liberal arts education and about how accrediting agencies work on assessment with the liberal arts colleges and small private universities in their regions. Our hope is that out of this will come greater familiarity on the part of liberal arts colleges of effective assessment methods and greater awareness on the part of accreditation agencies to the ways in which assessment might look different at liberal arts colleges than it does at larger institutions.


The program opened on Friday afternoon with a keynote address from Daryl Smith Professor of Education and Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Smith is an expert on diversity in higher education and her work on assessment has focused on assessing diversity initiatives. The second keynote address was from Patricia King, Director for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, who is currently taking part in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. 


In addition, we featured two panels addressing assessment from the point of view of accreditation agencies on the one hand and of liberal arts colleges and small universities on the other. Those representing accreditation agencies discussed the place of liberal arts colleges in their region and how their work with these colleges on assessment might differ from their work with other kinds otreef institutions. Our panelists were be Barbara Wright, Associate Director of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Robert Froh, Associate Director of the Commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and Jill Reich, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Bates College. 


The second panel explored assessment from the point of view of the liberal arts college or small university. Jim Appleton, Chancellor of the University of Redlands spoke from the presidential perspective. Charlie Blaich, Director of Inquiries at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College discussed assessing the distinctive outcomes of a liberal arts education. Mary Docter, Professor of Spanish at Westmont College, addressed faculty perspectives on assessment.


On Friday night the 2007 Conversation on the Liberal Arts featured a special performance of "The Syringa Tree," written by Pamela Gien and starring Gin Hammond.