In 2005, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) started surveying institutions around the country, asking employers, faculty, staff and alumni a fundamental question: “What qualities and skills do you want in college graduates?” It took several years—and a surprising amount of discussion and debate—to arrive at the answers. But the list that AAC&U eventually came up with has since been adapted by colleges nationwide and has been praised for its elegance, eloquence and simplicity. The colleges believe that students should prepare for modern global challenges by gaining the following:

Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world

Gained through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts. (This knowledge is also focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring.)

Intellectual and practical skills

  • Inquiry and analysis.
  • Creative and critical thinking.
  • Written and oral communication.
  • Quantitative literacy.
  • Information, media and technology literacy.
  • Teamwork and problem solving.
    (These skills are practiced extensively across the curriculum in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance.)

Personal and social responsibility

  • Civic knowledge and engagement, local and global.
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence.
  • Ethical reasoning and action.
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning.
    (These traits are anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges.)

Integrative learning

Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies. (This ability is demonstrated through application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.)

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New ways to measure student learning

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Does the credit hour stifle innovation?

One problem with the college credit hour, for those who would like to eliminate it, is that it is not just a measure of supposed student learning, but also a gauge of faculty workload. Does that distinction make it a barrier to innovative teaching? In the opinion of policy experts Jane Wellman and Thomas Erlich, who have studied the subject, if the credit hour does not stifle innovative teaching, it may at least make it more difficult.

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