Shenandoah University was in the midst of revising its general-education curriculum about four years ago when Amy Sarch, an associate provost there, heard about an unusual program on the other side of the country.

It was called Town Hall Meeting, and featured a forum at which students at California State University at Chico discussed public-policy issues with other students, faculty members, administrators, and community members. The students analyzed policies and came up with solutions by drawing on multiple perspectives.

To Sarch, the approach seemed like a good fit for her institution. "We blend liberal arts with career preparation," she said. "I thought this could work."