A category of the Carnegie classifications, the term “comprehensive” was created to describe small to mid-sized colleges and universities that offer baccalaureate degrees in the liberal arts and professional fields and master’s and first professional degrees, but not doctorates. In his landmark 1990 essay, “The Ugly Duckling of Higher Education,” University of Redlands Provost Frank Wong explored the identity and distinctive characteristics of comprehensive colleges and universities. He posited that they were neither liberal arts colleges nor research universities and therefore not understood or receiving of the respect due them. Yet he saw them possessing positive features of each of the two established institutional types. Wong argued that the central identity of these comprehensive institutions lay in their integrative potential, especially through integrating liberal and professional studies to enhance student learning. Wong’s provocative thinking caused a group of chief academic officers from private colleges and universities to create a study group to explore the distinctive characteristics of their institutions.
Ernest L. Boyer dubbed Wong’s Ugly Duckling “that sturdy American hybrid” because it possessed the combined strengths of prestigious liberal arts colleges of English origin, the German research university, and the American land grant university. Indeed, Boyer, called for a “New American College” that would restore the tradition of higher education service to scholarship and society that he associated with these classic 19th century models of post-secondary education. Later, Alexander Astin contributed the notion of “talent development” to the emerging concept of the New American College, arguing that institutional excellence should be measured by its educational outcomes, not by its resources alone. A conference on the New American College was held at Wingspread, ever the catalyst for collaborative advances in the quality of education, in 1994 which gave birth to the Associated New American Colleges. In 2009, the Board of Directors voted to change the name to The New American Colleges and Universities to reflect the fact that most members were universities.
New American Colleges and Universities seek to model a higher education learning community where the ethos is collegial and student and value-centered. They combine a strong commitment to teaching in a highly personalized liberal arts residential environment with the diverse programs and opportunities of a large research university. Faculty and professional staff share a flexible professional vision that links scholarship, teaching, and service in fulfilling the missions of their institutions. As a consequence of their inclusive character and manageable size, members create an effective blending of classroom and community, coordinating theoretical and experiential learning through undergraduate and graduate research, professional practice and internships, and community economic and social development projects in the local region around campus where members have historic ties and relationships. These hybrid characteristics have led some members to describe themselves as “collegiate universities,” where the ideals of Phi Beta Kappa and professional accreditation combine to generate a superior preparation for lives of personal meaning and career achievement.
The New American Colleges and Universities’ participation in higher education’s central discourse in recent years is reflected in a variety of ideas that have contributed to the organization’s distinctive intellectual heritage. Before his death in 1995, Wong drew an analogy to the health care industry in decrying the hazards of the “disconnected specialization” among university faculty. He characterized the faculty ideal as that of the “primary care professor” who focused holistically on student learning. His notion was what Boyer once called “linking thought and action.” Boyer’s successor president at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Lee S. Shulman, coined the term “professing the liberal arts” to underscore the two-way nature of contributions of liberal arts and professional programs to each other. Perhaps underscoring the long-standing ties between The New American Colleges and Universities and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, president Carol Geary Schneider called for “practical liberal learning” in the AACU 2003 Greater Expectations national report. A similar message was found in Carnegie’s Scholarship Reconsidered which urged the integration of scholarship and teaching and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) call, in Learning Reconsidered, for collaboration between academic and student affairs. Both views influenced and mirrored The New American Colleges and Universities’ thoughts.
In its focus on what might be called the “integrative institution,” The New American Colleges and Universities has conducted major projects with national foundation funding. The ANAC Faculty Work Project, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, originated in 1997 when the organization collaborated with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on a national survey of faculty. This project developed a blueprint for enhancing faculty-institutional relationships in order to better accomplish the institutional mission. The survey led to a book, A New Academic Compact: Revisioning the Relationship between Faculty and Their Institutions (Anker Press, 2002). With funding from TIAA-CREF Institute, the faculty work project analyzed the generation turnover of the faculty, as late-career faculty plan for retirement and hiring is underway for the faculty of the future. The TIAA-CREF grant underwrote a 2003 national survey of late-career faculty and a survey of early-career faculty in 2006. The second project, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, featured infusion of liberal and professional theory and practice in major programs in both fields. The New American Colleges and Universities partnered with AACU in sponsoring a 2002 national conference that borrowed from both projects in seeking to align faculty professional development and institutional priorities in support of integrative student learning.
Other programs and activities also reflect the integrative paradigm. Member presidents; chief academic, financial, and student affairs officers; deans; and program directors meet once or twice each year in roundtable discussions to share new ideas, common problems, and best practices. Since 1997, members have contributed more than 250 data sets annually to The New American Colleges and Universities Data Exchange, a member benchmarking tool in such areas as enrollment, student performance, salaries, finances, technology, and programs. In 2002, ANAC created ANAC Academy as a national faculty/staff professional development program. The Academy sponsors professional development workshops and a several-day annual summer institute for institutional teams of faculty, administrators, and other professional staff who also use the institute as a strategic opportunity to work collaboratively on an institutional priority. In 2003, ANAC established ANACSA (ANAC Study Abroad) as a consortium to provide member students with program opportunities in all parts of the world at a favorable cost to students and their institutions. Five years later, in 2008, the consortium established the Student Exchange program for domestic study away opportunities.
In 2011, the consortium, known as NAC&U since 2009, presented its first Ernest L. Boyer Award and welcomed Nancy Hensel as its president. It also secured a planning grant from The Teagle Foundation for “Preparing and Evaluating 21st Century Faculty: Aligning Expectations, Competencies and Rewards.” In the following year, The Teagle Foundation awarded NAC&U a grant for “Preparing 21st Century Students through New Visions for Faculty Evaluation, Campus Governance and Curriculum.”
In 2013, NAC&U launched an online course inventory populated with offerings from many of its members with the intention to increase learning opportunities for students. NAC&U also became a partner in AAC&U’s LEAP program.
In 2015, NAC&U published “Redefining the Paradigm: Faculty Models to Support Student Learning,” a result of the recent Teagle Foundation grant. The monograph discusses the concept of the holistic department and new models for faculty evaluation.