Does Online Learning Have a Role in Liberal Arts Colleges?

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Liberal arts colleges are known for low professor to student ratios, intimate seminar classes and highly personalized undergraduate experiences. On the surface, it is not obvious how online learning fits with this picture. But these days liberal arts colleges face many of the same pressures as larger universities – resource constraints, the growth of non-traditional students with more extracurricular responsibilities, even uncertainty about how a liberal arts education should evolve to stay relevant in a digital world. There is an urgent need to figure out how online learning technologies might help to address these pressures while honoring these institution’s core missions and values.

Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) President Richard Ekman believes that online learning presents new opportunities for liberal arts colleges to enhance their curricula and enrich their students' experience. With this in mind, CIC launched the Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction. This 20-member group is now working to develop online and hybrid courses that will be available to all members of the consortium, greatly expanding the number of courses available to their students. Focusing on upper-level humanities courses, the consortium is experimenting with new ways to deliver specialized topics in an array of disciplines.

Rebecca Griffiths, who is working with CIC to manage the program and evaluate its accomplishments, recently interviewed Richard Ekman to understand both the motivation for creating the Consortium and the challenges it is facing in its first year. We invite you to read this interview, published as our December issue brief.