In recent years, my colleagues and I at JGA have worked with several liberal arts colleges to secure funding for new science facilities – and we’ve kept a close eye on similar efforts at other colleges.
For many, though not all, the back story is similar. A small institution, one not driven by large research programs and grant dollars, has focused on excellent teaching, broad academic excellence, and addressing other capital facility needs. In effect, many schools were content to continue with well-maintained but increasingly outdated science facilities built in the 1970s or even 1960s.
So long as they could educate their students well enough to prepare them for medical school or graduate programs, their science programs were deemed successful. But, like with so many other aspects of higher education, the world has changed and so have the expectations:
– Some of the most promising sectors for jobs for future graduates rely on emerging science and technology – technology many outdated science programs are ill prepared to equip them to pursue.
– Prospective students and their parents tour a campus today and when they note a science facility that is not up to date or much advanced past their own high school or in comparison with another college then leave with a negative impression – often not well articulated but detrimental to their choosing that college for study.
– Science facilities and programs aren’t just for medical school applicants anymore. More colleges are acting upon the understanding that a superb liberal arts experience makes a grounding, a very solid one, in the sciences critical. As one multi-million dollar donor told us “you can’t have a good liberal arts degree unless you have a good understanding of science.”
We’ve seen colleges use the following to good effect in recent years:
Focus: They have built upon strengths. If they have a particular niche or element of their sciences which distinguish them from others, they emphasize that – and build upon it.
Connect: They have utilized Science programs to become much more connected with companies that not only may want to hire their graduates but who also see value in interacting in a robust way with faculty and staff exchanges.
Model: They’ve grown the experiential elements of their work – so that companies and research organizations make available internships for students and they’ve made research with faculty a much more common experience today than it was 30 years ago.
Integrate: They’ve embraced exciting multi-disciplinary sciences that cause science programs and staff to work with faculty in very different and traditionally entirely separate disciplines.
In some ways, this has come later than it should. But we are encouraged by what we see now and anticipate great results from those that are innovating.