The New American College: Moravian Seeks to Balance Liberal Arts and Professional Studies

A screenshot of the official list of New American Colleges and Universities; Photo Courtesy of:

On July 15, 2019, Moravian College announced that it had accepted an invitation to join the New American Colleges and Universities consortium.

Founded in 1995, the NAC&U is a group of small to mid-size independent colleges and universities that work to integrate liberal arts values with professional studies. It consists of 24 members, including Florida Southern, Manhattan College, and the University of Scranton. 

Membership gives Moravian students access to several abroad and exchange programs, as well as online courses. The NAC&U also facilitates faculty groups to share ideas on how to integrate liberal arts education with professional studies. 

This focus differs from that of a traditional liberal arts education, which aims less to train students in specific occupations than it does to broadly educate them and, in the process, develop their critical-thinking skills.

President Grigsby believes the two approaches are compatible and are in keeping with Moravian’s core values.“[Moravian founders] believed in practical education,” he said. “They learned how to build things and how to play music. [So] we are truer to our founding by providing practical education and imbuing that with the liberal arts.” 

Grigsby hopes that every class, at every level, will marry the traditional liberal arts skills with the professional, as many already do. By way of example, he mentions the College’s nursing program. “Yes, you’re a nursing student, but nursing students still have to learn how to communicate well, to critically think, to work well in teams, to be ethical, to be a leader, all of those liberal arts skills,” he said. 

Dr. Dawn Goodolf, chairperson of the department of nursing, agrees. “It’s easy for some professionals to become siloed and not understand why they have to know the humanities and the arts, but that’s what makes nursing ‘nursing,’” she said. “It’s the arts and sciences of the practice.” Considering that nursing and other professional programs at Moravian have already integrated a liberal arts education, Goodolf hopes that Moravian’s involvement with the NAC&U will continue to strengthen all of the College’s programs. 

Dr. Joyce Hinnefeld, professor of English, believes that the change in emphasis is “not necessarily a bad thing,” thanks in part to her experiences with the Moravian professors of professional programs and their commitment to valuing the liberal arts education in their particular field of study. She does, however, worry that joining the NAC&U may be “to the detriment of our traditional, undergraduate programs,” and that Moravian may “ultimately move away from a strong, liberal arts curriculum.” 

Her bigger concern is the message that becoming a “New American College” may send. “[I wonder] if it’s an indicator that we’re acknowledging that we’re getting on board with this larger, cultural attitude, that a liberal arts degree doesn’t get you anything,” she said. “That worries me, because getting on board with that seems to be a way of saying that a liberal arts education is for wealthy, privileged students only.”