University status doesn't diminish quality of teaching

June 26, 2008|By Kevin J. Manning

America has a very diverse system of higher education. Students can choose from among community colleges, liberal arts colleges or universities. Those classifications include a rich mosaic of opportunities rooted in a history of change.

When comparing universities and colleges, only the division of the academic enterprise clearly stands out as a difference. Some universities offer a research focus, but out of the 4,200 higher-education institutions in the United States, only a small number have an exclusive model of scholarship. Whitman College President George S. Bridges indicated in a Sun commentary that liberal arts colleges alone offer the means to "exceptional teaching." But here at Stevenson University, we believe quality teaching and a core curriculum are the benchmarks of a first-rate education in all institutions, including universities.

A strong curriculum recognizes that judgment, insight and intellectual curiosity about life and people benefit accountants and nurses as much as they do philosophers and historians. Whether the graduate of a college or university, the best-educated professionals are grounded in common sense and good judgment, both derived from a study of arts and humanities.

In the same way that we can't say liberal arts colleges do not pursue scholarly research, neither can we say that research universities do not value quality teaching. All institutions of higher education play a critical role in serving a nation of extraordinary richness and complexity. In fact, since the founding of Harvard in 1636, higher education has evolved from private institutions to public land-grant institutions to today's distinctive public and private colleges and universities.

Villa Julie College, a 60-year-old independent college with a strong career focus, recently announced its university status and a name change to Stevenson University. This decision followed a thoughtful, four-year study initiated by a large team of engaged faculty and staff and including open communication with diverse internal and external constituents. The decision was not made lightly - the board of trustees played a considerable role, and administrators committed budget resources and significant amounts of time.

For Stevenson, two very significant facts drove the change to university status. First, undergraduate enrollment has grown from approximately 1,400 students in 2000 to an anticipated 2,650 students this fall. Our graduate education programs, offered both on site and online, also continue to grow. Second, we established a second campus in 2004 because of sustained enrollment growth. A thriving, 80-acre campus has developed in Owings Mills, six miles away from our 64-acre founding campus in Stevenson. A 60,000-square-foot School of Business and Leadership will open this fall at Owings Mills.

The board and leadership at Stevenson University concluded that continuing to provide quality personal instruction to our students required a different structure. The university model seemed appropriate in many ways but did not signal a change in our mission. Stevenson University will primarily be a teaching university. Graduate students will not teach, nor will they or faculty engage in extensive research.

Becoming a university does not signify a decline in commitment to a liberal arts education. In fact, several years ago, our faculty spent an entire year analyzing our liberal arts curriculum. We rank exposure to the liberal arts as the most important aspect of higher education within our career-focused education. The high-caliber organizations that ultimately employ our graduates agree.

We live in a dynamic and exciting time. Our society desperately needs both liberal arts colleges and larger universities. America will settle for nothing less. We will resolve the historic tension in higher education between being inclusive and exclusive only by providing diverse educational opportunities.

The growth of America and the broader society needs this choice and opportunity in order to continue to adapt to a modern culture. By working together, colleges and universities can influence an independent, thoughtful and intellectual maturity in our 21st-century graduates. For this reason, our system of higher education remains a leader throughout the world.

Kevin J. Manning is president of Stevenson University. His e-mail is

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