Students and their families face myriad pressures as they navigate the process of enrolling in college. One of the most important decisions they can make in the college choice process is what to study. The benefits of the liberal arts have been well-documented and survey after survey indicate that employers prize the skills such an education cultivates, including skills in critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. However, the liberal arts is increasingly perceived as a luxury good, out of reach for all except the most affluent students.

How can high school students get a deeper sense of what a rigorous liberal arts education offers so they can make educated choices about what to study as undergraduates? How can students who start their college careers at more affordable two-year institutions – and often express an interest in pursuing the liberal arts – be set on a well-marked pathway to complete the baccalaureate in the liberal arts? And how can students, regardless of where they are enrolled, have an enriching and enlarging liberal arts education that prepares them for lives of effective citizenship and satisfying work?

In fall 2018, The Teagle Foundation launched the Pathways to the Liberal Arts initiative to support a diverse array of institutions in the work of securing access to and success in the liberal arts. Participating institutions were encouraged to choose one of three target areas:(1) strengthening access to the liberal arts in the transition from high school to college;(2) strengthening transfer access to the liberal arts from public two-year to private four-year colleges; and (3) strengthening the rigor and quality of liberal arts pathways at two- and four-year institutions.

In 2018-2020, under the first strand of Pathways, planning and implementation grants were made to 15 institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to large public research universities, to engage low-income high school students in the local community with college-level humanities seminars coupled with civic education projects, access to faculty mentoring, and support through the college search and application process. Under the second strand of Pathways, planning and implementation grants were made to develop statewide frameworks that promote transfer from two-year community college to four-year independent colleges in New England, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington. Under the third strand of Pathways, planning and implementation grants were made to 12 institutions around the country to create gateway courses for incoming students anchored in core texts and to make general education and upper division coursework for the major more streamlined and coherent. Participating institutions included community colleges, early college high schools, regional comprehensive public institutions, and research universities.

The work begun under the Pathways to the Liberal Arts initiative is expected to continue through a more focused set of RFPs, with resources dedicated accordingly, to be released in fall 2020: Knowledge for Freedom; Transfer Pathways to the Liberal Arts; and Cornerstone: Learning for Living.