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The New American University

Posted by:
April 16, 2014

As a university of the first rank, Pacific Lutheran University seeks to maximize its mission to become an internationally renowned model of a New American University, integrating a distinctive liberal arts college with one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier centers for professional education.

PLU has long been on the road to becoming a certain kind of university: one that is primarily a first class residential liberal arts college, but also one that can deliver a first class professional education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. PLU has always been highly regarded in the community for its commitment to community and civic engagement. These three elements:

  1. Liberal arts college
  2. Center for professional education
  3. Center for civic engagement

— when integrated together, are the three ingredients for a new type—a new genus—of higher education institution. This type was called a New American College by Ernest Boyer in a series of influential essays and speeches in the 1990s. Since Boyer coined this term, most of the institutions that have aligned with this identity are referred to as universities; so, the term has tended to become New American University. The association of these types of institutions is called New American Colleges and Universities (NAC&U). The PLU vision document, PLU2020, calls on the university community to understand and realize the vision Boyer set forth.

The Boyerian New American University model seeks to integrate the three ingredients of liberal arts, professional education, and civic engagement—not merely to offer these three things, but to integrate them. At present, PLU offers these three ingredients, and, a number of students achieve integration of these three elements during their PLU education. PLU’s mission statement—“We seek to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care—for other people, for their communities, and for the earth”—nicely captures the spirit of Boyer’s New American University ideal. PLU’s mission statement is rooted in the Lutheran higher education tradition, which emphasizes rigorous research, commitment to the betterment of the world, learning in community, and the purposeful discernment of vocation. If PLU can fully realize this mission statement—that is, to ensure every student experiences every aspect of the mission statement, rather than merely being offered these aspects—we will have become a model of the New American University. In other words, PLU has been aiming to become just the kind of institution described by Boyer’s term, “New American University.” PLU has a well-supported mission statement that perfectly aligns with this vision. So, recognizing what it is we are in the process of becoming should help us achieve it.

Boyer’s idea of the New American University was that America had invented two notable types of higher education institutions: the liberal arts college and the community college. In coining the term New American University, Boyer was suggesting that we create a new kind of institution—not merely a liberal arts college; not merely an applied professional school; not a giant research-focused university; not a “comprehensive university”; not a “master’s university”; not a “regional college”; and not a “regional university.” The new type of institution Boyer envisioned would provide all the depth and richness and personal connection of a classic liberal arts college with all the skills and training and expertise of a professional school with an overarching commitment to cultivating leaders of communities and the solvers of problems.

In practical terms, becoming not just an example of a New American University, but rather an “internationally renowned model” of one, means that we need to integrate liberal education and professional education and civic engagement. Becoming a “premier center for professional education” assumes a richer mix of professional programs as well as more—and more notable—graduate programs in professional disciplines. Having a mere 8 percent of students currently in PLU’s graduate programs does not suggest an institution particularly committed to graduate education. Something between 20 percent and 33 percent would seem to be closer to the kind of balance between undergraduate and graduate programs of a model New American University. What those programs are and how many students will be in them and what kinds of resources (people and money and facilities) we will need to reach these numbers is some of the hard work of the next 7 to 10 years.

“Integration” refers to the New American University ideal of truly integrating the liberal arts with professional education and with civic engagement. For those members of the PLU community who might not see a clear role for themselves in the work associated with “The Box,” the idea of figuring out how we at PLU can be the first institution anywhere to achieve effective, meaningful, high-quality integration of these three elements will provide a pole star to follow. Such integration will require creativity across the institution—and it will require considerable trial and error. Given that PLU has a strongly collegial and mutually supportive culture–a “door opening culture”—the idea of integration should find a more welcoming soil than other institutions might.

Expert from President Krise’s paper, Making the PLU vision a reality – the New American University, 2013

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