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The meaning of liberal education

Robert A. Scott (President of Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 4 February 2014




The purpose of this essay is to comment on the philosophy of liberal education and its structure; the goal of general education and how it fulfills the goals of liberal education; and the four key elements of liberal education, including the “liberating” aspects of general education, the need for an emphasis on questions more than on answers, the meaning of a global perspective, and the connections of each of the above to extracurricular experiences and engaged citizenship.


This essay is a review of the topics of liberal and general education, their components, and their importance.


Using the design and methodology mentioned above as a way to explore the purpose, the essay reveals selected universal truths about a liberal or “liberating” undergraduate education.

Research limitations/implications

The approach that is detailed can be assessed in comparison to other formulations of liberal and general education.

Practical implications

The framework described above suggests possibilities for redesigning liberal and general education programs so as to have a greater impact on undergraduate student learning and to foster experiential and interdisciplinary learning.


While this is a personal perspective based on many decades of senior positions in higher education, it is based not only on the author's own analysis and thinking, but also on a broad understanding of the literature about these topics.



A. Scott, R. (2014), "The meaning of liberal education", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 23-34.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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