Liberal Education and America's Promise Essential Learning Outcomes

Association of American Colleges and Universities
Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) is a national initiative that champions the importance of a twenty-first-century liberal education—for individual students and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality.

Beginning in school, and continuing at successively higher levels across their college studies, students should prepare for twenty-first-century challenges by gaining:


Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World

  • Through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts

Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring


Intellectual and Practical Skills, including

  • Inquiry and analysis
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Written and oral communication
  • Quantitative literacy
  • Information literacy
  • Teamwork and problem solving

Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance


Personal and Social Responsibility, including

  • Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Ethical reasoning and action
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning

Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges


Integrative Learning, including

  • Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies

Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems


Note: This listing was developed through a multiyear dialogue with hundreds of colleges and universities about needed goals for student learning; analysis of a long series of recommendations and reports from the business community; and analysis of the accreditation requirements for engineering, business, nursing, and teacher education. The findings are documented in previous publications of the Association of American Colleges and Universities: Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College (2002), Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree (2004), and Liberal Education Outcomes: A Preliminary Report on Achievement in College (2005).


The Principles of Excellence

Principle One:

  • Aim high—and make excellence inclusive
  • Make the Essential Learning Outcomes a framework for the entire educational experience, connecting school, college, work, and life

Principle Two:

  • Give students a compass
  • Focus each student’s plan of study on achieving the Essential Learning Outcomes—and assess progress

Principle Three:

  • Teach the arts of inquiry and innovation
  • Immerse all students in analysis, discovery, problem solving, and communication, beginning in school and advancing in college

Principle Four:

  • Engage the big questions
  • Teach through the curriculum to far-reaching issues—contemporary and enduring—in science and society, cultures and values, global interdependence, the changing economy, and human dignity and freedom

Principle Five:

  • Connect knowledge with choices and action
  • Prepare students for citizenship and work through engaged and guided learning on “real-world” problems

Principle Six:

  • Foster civic, intercultural, and ethical learning
  • Emphasize personal and social responsibility in every field of study

Principle Seven:

  • Assess students’ ability to apply learning to complex problems
  • Use assessment to deepen learning and to establish a culture of shared purpose and continuous improvement


Quoted from the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Essential Learning Outcomes:
Principles of Excellence: