The New American Colleges & Universities is a consortium of private, comprehensive colleges, from throughout the country, grounded in the liberal arts tradition. In the early 1990s, they came together seeking to define their distinctive mission and contribution to higher education.
In August 1994, Ernest L. Boyer participated in a Wingspread conference, to discuss the distinctive qualities and opportunities of these institutions. Boyer said at this meeting, “I am convinced that the time has come for a new generation of creative colleges that color outside the lines—institutions that become what I’ve recently referred to as ‘the New American College,’ institutions that define distinctive missions based on a vision other than the two traditional symbols of excellence in higher education, the research university and the liberal arts college.” He went on to say that these “clusters of colleges would break out of the Unitarian model of faculty research and define scholarship broadly to include not just discovery, but integration application, and teaching as well. Such institutions are what I would call the New American College.”
Boyer spoke particularly of the paradigm of the New American College as “integrative institutions”—ones that intentionally draw connections across the disciplines, between general education and the major, between faculty and students, between the classroom and campus life, between traditional education and the life long learning, between the campus and the larger world.
Ernest Boyer’s contributions at the Wingspread conference, as well as his extensive impact on how we understand undergraduate education—as teacher, scholar, and learner—gave rise to the Associated New American Colleges, now known as the New American Colleges and Universities. Our consortium has thrived as its members work together to share best practices that embrace the mission to integrate liberal education, professional studies and civic responsibility, and to become truly integrative institutions.
One of NAC&U’s founding members, Hal Wilde, president of North Central College, wrote of that conference: “The language and insights of Alexander Astin and Ernest Boyer were extremely helpful. Boyer provided elegant language to describe what the ‘liberal arts comprehensives’ aspire to be: ‘the New American College,’ …an educational hybrid drawing upon the best elements of the colonial college and the land grant university traditions—institutions marked by connectedness, where faculty practices model behavior we want in students, and where professors are able to talk about values and to develop a language of effective teaching…. From Astin came an emphasis on ‘talent development;’ on student outcomes rather than institutional reputation and resources; on a vision of the university built upon cooperation, community and service; on the implicit values of institutions, rather than the explicit ones stated publicly.”
It is our honor to recall the impact that Ernest Boyer had on American education, and to honor as well others who have had a significant impact on higher education.