What is a Liberal Education?


The term “liberal” (Latin root: liber) originated in the Middle Ages and is the foundation of all higher educations. The Association of American Colleges and Universities states: “liberal education is an education that fosters a well-grounded intellectual resilience, a disposition toward lifelong learning and an acceptance of responsibility for the ethical consequences of our ideas and actions. Liberal education requires:

  • that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture and society;
  • that we master core skills of perception, analysis and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth;
  • that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and
  • that we explore connections among formal learning, citizenship and service to our communities.

Liberal education has been a philosophy of education that aims to empower individuals, liberate the mind from ignorance and cultivate social responsibility.”The educational approach “that best serves individuals, our globally engaged democracy and an innovating economy is liberal education.” (See Statement on Liberal Learning approved by the AAC&U board of directors, 1998.)