The Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are partnering to jointly sponsor Cornerstone: Learning for Living, a grant program to reinvigorate the role of the humanities in general education on campuses across the country.
Colleges and universities are seeing declining numbers of students choosing to major in the humanities, declining enrollments by non-majors in many humanities courses, and widespread demoralization of humanities faculty. The Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative is inspired by the innovative Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts program at Purdue University, which provides a coherent pathway through general education that helps students connect the humanities to their professional aspirations. The Purdue program is helping students in pre-professional majors strengthen critical thinking and communication skills, has reversed the decline in credit hours at Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts, and created new teaching opportunities for humanities faculty.
The Teagle-NEH Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative aims, through general education, to provide all students with the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the world and themselves, while strengthening the skills to read closely, write clearly, speak with confidence, and to engage with differing viewpoints and perspectives—all capacities cultivated by the humanities that are crucial for participation in our democracy.
The Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative emphasizes gateway courses aimed at incoming students that are anchored in transformative texts—ancient and modern, Western and non-Western—that have changed the world and continue to have the power to transform individual lives. Such texts—regardless of authorship, culture, or the era that produced them— give students access to a wide range of lived experience. They help students understand how the boundaries of race, gender, and cultural difference can be crossed by exercising the sympathetic imagination. Given the marked shift in undergraduate enrollment toward pre-professional fields of study, the initiative also emphasizes thematically organized clusters of courses that bring humanistic inquiry to problems in business, health, engineering, and other technical fields. The aim is to help students appreciate that technical problems cannot be addressed exclusively through technical solutions.
The program seeks to counter a growing trend at many institutions where general education is structured around distribution requirements and minimizes opportunities for genuine engagement with deep and difficult questions raised by the humanities and for building community through a common intellectual experience. The prevailing structure of general education can have the effect of undermining persistence and retention, particularly for low-income and first-generation students who face pressure to enter the workforce prematurely.
“Encouraging students to ask questions about meaning and purpose in life, and about how to organize a just society—and to do so with the help of searching works and caring teachers—is essential for a rewarding college experience and ultimately for the health of American civic life,” said Andrew Delbanco, President of the Teagle Foundation. “Yet the humanities, which pose such questions, are languishing on many campuses. Our partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities to co-sponsor the Cornerstone: Learning for Living grant program aims to foster deep discussions in and beyond the classroom about formative ideas in our multicultural world, and thereby to help students grow into reflective adulthood.”
Making general education more attentive to student concerns through the humanities holds promise for reducing attrition, which often occurs after the first year of college when students typically encounter incoherent options of disconnected introductory coursework that feel like a box-checking exercise unrelated to their lives and future plans. Making general education more coherent and connected to the rest of their college experience is especially needed now, when students face many challenges that may interrupt their progress toward degree completion. Students also deserve a better sense of the salience of their coursework for the issues and questions they care about, and for learning how different forms of knowledge are interconnected—as are the problems they will be tackling in the real world—all while building skills in communication and critical analysis that are prized in the workplace and beyond.
"The humanities help us make sense of ourselves, our culture, and our place in the world," said Jon Parrish Peede, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. "NEH is proud to partner with the Teagle Foundation to put the humanities at the center of general education, giving today's college students the tools necessary to meet the challenges of tomorrow."
The Cornerstone: Learning for Living grant initiative welcomes the participation of a diverse array of institutions, including community colleges, STEM-oriented institutions, liberal arts colleges, regional comprehensive institutions, and research universities. Implementation grants of varying amounts, up to $350,000 over 24 months, will be made to each funded project participating in this grant program. Implementation grants may be used to support teaching fellowships for doctoral students, post-doctoral scholars, and/or visiting faculty. Applications for planning grants up to $25,000 over 12 months are strongly encouraged to lay the groundwork for successful curricular reform and faculty professional development.
For additional information, please join our Cornerstone: Learning for Living institute on teaching with transformative texts and adapting the Cornerstone program model to your campus setting. The institute is open to all interested faculty and will run from 12:30-2:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, October 8 and Thursday, October 15 via Zoom. Please also see the Cornerstone: Learning for Living request for proposals and toolkit. Concept papers for the first round of planning and implementation awards must be submitted by December 1, 2020 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Teagle Foundation works to support and strengthen liberal arts education, which we see as fundamental to meaningful work, effective citizenship, and a fulfilling life. Our aim is to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of teaching and learning in the arts and sciences while addressing issues of financial sustainability and accountability in higher education.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans. The Endowment accomplishes this mission by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers.