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Liberal arts colleges in the United States


Liberal arts colleges in the United States

Liberal arts colleges in the United States are certain undergraduate institutions of higher education in the United States. The Encyclopædia Britannica Concise offers a definition of the liberal arts as a "college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum."[1] Generally, a full-time, four-year course of study at a liberal arts college leads students to earning a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.

These schools are American institutions of higher education which have traditionally emphasized interactive instruction (although research is still a component of these institutions) at the undergraduate level. While there is no nationwide legal standard in the United States, the term "university" is primarily used to designate graduate education and research institutions, and is reserved for doctorate-granting institutions,[2] and some US states, such as Massachusetts, will only grant a school "university status" if it offers graduate programs in multiple disciplines.[3]

These colleges also encourage a high level of student-teacher interaction at the center of which are classes taught by full-time faculty rather than graduate student TAs (who teach some of the classes at Research I and other universities). They are known for being residential and for having smaller enrollment, class size and student-teacher ratios than universities, but have been exploring the recent trend of online learning as a blended or exclusive environment to offer certain courses.[4] Due in part to a trend in the United States toward higher numbers of students enrolling in science and research universities, liberal arts colleges have decided to explore the idea of creating the traditional environment using online technology, and some liberal arts colleges are now offering entire degree programs online like New England College,[5] Bryn Mawr College [6] and Wesleyan University.[7] In addition, some colleges offer experimental curricula.


  • Consortia and groups 1
  • Purpose and goals 2
  • Rankings 3
    • 2007 movement 3.1
  • SAT optional movement 4
  • List of liberal arts colleges in the United States 5
  • Notes 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Consortia and groups

Liberal arts colleges are also often associated with larger bodies or consortia. The largest association of private liberal arts colleges in the United States is the Council of Independent Colleges, with more than 630 small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities.[8] The Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges is a consortium of public liberal arts colleges. Many liberal arts colleges belong to the Annapolis Group, Oberlin Group, Women's College Coalition, and the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges. A number of liberal arts colleges are involved in Project Pericles or the Eco League.

Other well-known consortia in the Eastern United States include the Little Three, the Seven Sisters Colleges, and the Little Ivies. Four Eastern colleges, along with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, are also part of the Five Colleges Consortium in Western Massachusetts and three Eastern colleges comprise the Tri-College Consortium.

Similar consortia include the Claremont College Consortium in Southern California and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest in the Midwestern United States. Additional midwestern groups include the Five Colleges of Ohio, Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities, the Associated Colleges of the Midwest and the Great Lakes Colleges Association. Groups in the Southern United States include the Associated Colleges of the South, and the Seven Sisters of the South.

Purpose and goals

Chapter One ("The Liberal Arts: What is a Liberal Arts Education and Why is it Important Today") of Howard Greene and Matthew Greene's Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence, defines the goals of a liberal arts education in the following manner:

In a complex, shifting world, it is essential to develop a high degree of intellectual literacy and critical-thinking skills, a sense of moral and ethical responsibility to one's community, the ability to reason clearly, to think rationally, to analyze information intelligently, to respond to people in a compassionate and fair way, to continue learning new information and concepts over a lifetime, to appreciate and gain pleasure from the beauty of the arts and literature and to use these as an inspiration and a solace when needed, to revert to our historical past for lessons that will help shape the future intelligently and avoid unnecessary mistakes, to create a sense of self-esteem that comes from personal accomplishments and challenges met with success.[9]

In addition, college placement counselor Loren Pope writes that at the liberal arts colleges he lists in Colleges That Change Lives:

The focus is on the student, not the faculty; he is heavily involved in his own education. There are no passive ears; students and faculty work so closely together, they even coauthor publications. Teaching is an act of love. There is not only a mentor relationship in class but professors become hiking companions, intramural teammates, dinner companions, and friends. Learning is collaborative rather than competitive; values are central; there is a strong sense of community. They are places of great synergy, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Aspirations are raised, young people are empowered."[10]


College and university rankings guides offer annual issues which rank liberal arts colleges separately from research universities. The Washington Monthly is one such body that provides rankings specifically of liberal arts colleges.[11]

U.S. News & World Report also ranks national liberal arts colleges including military academies. Its most recent 2016 rankings top 21 consisted of the following:
University Rank 2014 Acceptance Rate
Williams College 1 19.3%
Amherst College 2 13.8%
Swarthmore College 3 17.0%
Bowdoin College 4 14.9%
Middlebury College 4 17.2%
Pomona College 4 12.2%
Wellesley College 4 30.4%
Carleton College 8 22.8%
Claremont McKenna College 9 10.8%
Davidson College 9 21.7%
United States Naval Academy 9 7.9%
Haverford College 12 24.7%
Vassar College 12 23.5%
Hamilton College 14 26.4%
Harvey Mudd College 14 14.2%
Smith College 14 42.2%
Washington and Lee University 14 19.6%
Wesleyan University 14 23.9%
Colby College 19 28.1%
Colgate University 19 26.2%
Grinnell College 19 28.0%

2007 movement

On 19 June 2007, during the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.

On 22 June 2007, U.S. News and World Report editor Robert Morse issued a response in which he argued, "in terms of the peer assessment survey, we at U.S. News firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the "intangibles" of a college that we can't measure through statistical data. Plus, the reputation of a school can help get that all-important first job and plays a key part in which grad school someone will be able to get into. The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges."[14] In reference to the alternative database discussed by the Annapolis Group, Morse also argued, "It's important to point out that the Annapolis Group's stated goal of presenting college data in a common format has been tried before [...] U.S. News has been supplying this exact college information for many years already. And it appears that NAICU will be doing it with significantly less comparability and functionality. U.S. News first collects all these data (using an agreed-upon set of definitions from the Common Data Set). Then we post the data on our website in easily accessible, comparable tables. In other words, the Annapolis Group and the others in the NAICU initiative actually are following the lead of U.S. News."[14]

SAT optional movement

A number of U.S. liberal arts colleges have either joined, or have been important influences on, a movement to make the SAT optional for admission, in response to criticisms of the SAT.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Bates College in Lewiston, Maine were among the first to institute SAT-optional programs in 1969 and 1984, respectively.[15] In 1990, the Bates faculty voted to make all standardized testing optional in the college's admissions process, and in October 2004 Bates published a study regarding the testing optional policy, which was presented to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Following two decades without required testing, the college found that the difference in graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters was 0.1%, that Bates' applicant pool had doubled since the policy was instated with approximately 1/3 of applicants not submitting scores, that non-submitting students averaged only 0.05 points lower on their collegiate Grade Point Average, and that applications from minority students rose dramatically.[16]

The Bates study prompted a movement among small liberal arts colleges to make the SAT optional for admission to college in the early 2000s.[17][18] Indeed, according to a 31 August 2006 article in the New York Times, "It is still far too early to sound the death knell, but for many small liberal arts colleges, the SAT may have outlived its usefulness."[19]

Sarah Lawrence College and Pitzer College dropped their SAT test score submission requirement for their undergraduate applicants in 2003 and 2004 respectively,[20] thus joining the SAT optional movement for undergraduate admission. The former president of Sarah Lawrence, Dr. Michele Tolela Myers, described the rationale for this decision in an article for The Washington Post on 11 March 2007, saying: "We are a writing-intensive school, and the information produced by SAT scores added little to our ability to predict how a student would do at our college; it did, however, do much to bias admission in favor of those who could afford expensive coaching sessions." As a result of this policy, in the same Washington Post article, Dr. Myers stated that she was informed by the U.S. News and World Report that if no SAT scores were submitted, U.S. News would "make up a number" to use in its magazines. She further argues that if SLC were to decide to stop sending all data to U.S. News and World Report, their ranking would be artificially decreased.[21][22] U.S. News issued a response to this article on 12 March 2007 that stated that the evaluation of Sarah Lawrence is under review.[23]

As of 2007, according to U.S. News & World Report, Sarah Lawrence was the only "major" American college that completely disregarded SAT scores in its admission process.[23] Currently Sarah Lawrence accepts SAT scores, but submitting these scores remains optional. [24] Other liberal arts colleges that do not consider the SAT include Shimer College, which has an open admissions policy,[25] and Hampshire College, which is "test blind" in both admissions and financial aid decisions. [24]

The full list of SAT optional schools is given by [27]

List of liberal arts colleges in the United States


  1. ^
  2. ^ U.S. Department of State: Types of Institutions
  3. ^ Massachusetts Board of Education: Degree-granting regulations for independent institutions of higher education "A university must meet the requirements of a four-year or senior college, and must provide graduate programs in four or more distinct professional fields of study. A university must clearly identify graduate studies as a distinct element within its organization, and must provide the additional faculty, facilities, and resources necessary to support sound graduate programs."
  4. ^ Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012 Survey Download. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  5. ^ Online Learning Programs | Distance Learning | New England College. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  6. ^ Instructional Technologist Jennifer Spohrer Presents at E-Learning Conference : Inside Bryn Mawr. (2012-02-23). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  7. ^ Kolowich, Steve. (2012-05-22) Liberal arts college explore uses of 'blended' online learning. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Green, Howard and Matthew Green. Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence (New York: Harper Collins, 2000), 12
  10. ^ Loren Pope. Colleges That Change Lives (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), 6
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ Epstein, Jonathan P (2009). "Behind the SAT-Optional Movement: Context and Controversy" Journal of College Admissions, n204 p8-19.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^

Further reading

  • Harriman, Philip. "Antecedents of the Liberal Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 6, No. 2 (1935): 63-71.
  • Koblik, Steven and Stephen Richards Graubard. Distinctively American: The Residential Liberal Arts Colleges, 2000.
  • Pfnister, Allen O. "The Role of the Liberal Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 55, No. 2 (March/April 1984): 145-170.
  • Pope, Loren. Colleges That Change Lives. New York: Penguin, 2006.
  • Reeves, Floyd W. "The Liberal-Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 1, No. 7 (1930): 373-380.
  • Seidel, George. "Saving the Small College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 39, No. 6 (1968): 339-342.

External links

  • How To Choose a College That's Right For You - NPR
  • The right college the right fit: is the perfect college out there waiting for you? Absolutely! But you need to do your research. Get introspective, check your facts, then go out and find it
  • Alphabetical listing of SAT optional schools; Listing of SAT optional schools by State.
  • Teens, parents should avoid College Selection Hysteria - The Capital
  • Searching (and Searching) for the Right College Fit - Chronicle of Higher Education
  • - U.S. Department of Education
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