Professional and Liberal Education

Outreach to non-traditional communities and populations has long been part of SAS’s educational mission, but has become increasingly important as the University adapts to the changing demographics of higher education in the 21st century. From adult students pursuing alternate pathways to a bachelor’s degree, professionals under pressure to continually update knowledge, and global audiences who seek the benefits of liberal arts study, to alumni who want to stay connected to Penn, many students are no longer strictly pursuing traditional degree programs. Arts and Sciences is well positioned to provide exceptional lifelong learning opportunities to these audiences through its Division of Professional and Liberal Education (PLE), which offers a diverse portfolio of degree, non-degree and non-credit programs including summer academies for high school students, post-baccalaureate programs, professional master’s degrees, English as a second language courses, and arts-and-sciences-based executive education.  Reaching non-traditional audiences often prompts PLE to design and deliver education in novel ways, and what we learn from that experience can be leveraged to benefit education in other parts of the School and University.  

New Program Development: As audiences emerge and their needs change, PLE will continue to develop new credit and non-credit offerings, including hybrid programs that involve shorter stays on campus with online instruction and laboratory models that combine study, research, and practical application. Among the topic areas for development are those relating to the emerging academic opportunities identified later in this plan. In order to expand Arts and Sciences’ impact, PLE will grow its non-credit programming – certificates, short-term executive courses, and customized training programs – that engage professionals and pre-professionals in flexible and accessible ways with major philosophical, moral, and scientific questions. Such programming provides opportunities for faculty to experiment with new content that crosses disciplinary boundaries, to pilot courses that they might not be able to offer through traditional undergraduate or graduate curricula, and to translate research to application. Broader outreach to organizations, employers, and alumni will help the School to understand how needs are evolving and to connect those needs with relevant Arts and Sciences scholarship through innovative programming.  

PLE will continue to bring lifelong learners to campus during the Summer Sessions and for short stays throughout the academic year.  Through Penn Summer Abroad and the English Language Programs, the division will provide programming in locations around the globe.  Expanding international partnerships to bring students of all ages (high school, university, working professionals) to campus and connecting PLE programming to Penn’s and SAS’s global initiatives in India, China, and elsewhere will support both access and global engagement.

Online Learning: The continued creative deployment of digital learning within both our traditional and non-traditional programs offers enormous potential for extending our reach and impact.  The rapid evolution of this mode of education and the development of new delivery platforms have provided SAS with an opportunity to deepen its decade-long engagement with online learning and to broaden access to educational opportunities on an unprecedented scale.  SAS faculty have played a leading role in Penn’s experiment with Coursera and massive open online courses, enrolling more than 600,000 individuals around the world in Arts and Sciences MOOCs and sparking an active discussion about implications for pedagogy on-campus as well as online.   Reaching younger generations of learners will require the School to embrace the new media these students are accustomed to and to adapt media to support our educational goals.

Faculty Engagement: To ensure the academic excellence of the lifelong learning enterprise, SAS must pursue broader and deeper engagement of the standing faculty in content development, teaching, and program oversight.  Pairing the expertise of SAS faculty with that of practitioners will allow development of programs that blend foundational research and scholarship with application.  Seeking out additional partnerships with the University’s professional schools will help to strengthen existing programs and lead to opportunities for new programs that leverage the best of Penn as a whole.