ERIC Identifier: ED368890
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
The Place of the Humanities in Continuing Higher Education.
ERIC Digest No. 145.
The humanities tend to be neglected in adult and continuing education
programs and courses. A major contributor to this neglect is the perception that
the humanities are primarily for personal enrichment and lack practical
application to real problems and issues of interest to many adults. In reality,
the humanities can offer insight into the ways people look at and interpret
life's events. This ERIC DIGEST describes the role of the humanities in adult
learning and ways continuing higher education providers can use the humanities
to enrich their program offerings.
CURRENT CONTEXT OF THE HUMANITIES
Since the 1970s,
education has increasingly focused on the teaching and learning of competencies
related to vocational-technical occupations and the professions. However, as the
next millennium approaches, the ability to analyze information and solve
problems, the flexibility to cope with change, and the skill to communicate
effectively in a culturally diverse workplace will assume equal importance.
Liberal education can contribute to growth in these areas and bring new
dimensions to individuals' insight, understanding, flexibility, and tolerance
Some of the major trends in continuing education suggest that there is a
ready and eager market for program offerings in the humanities (House 1991):
1. Colleges and universities are becoming physically decentralized.
2. There is an increasing reliance on technology, which facilitates
registration, student advisement, and student coursework.
3. Colleges and universities are becoming more aware of the global dimensions
of virtually every discipline and of the relevance of courses in second
languages, multicultural understanding, and anthropology.
4. Societal changes--aging population, life-styles, family structure, and so
forth--enhance the importance of lifelong learning.
5. The numbers of part-time and older learners are continuing to grow.
The accessibility and relevance of educational programs are two factors
enticing many adults to resume their learning. Some adults who are challenged by
the events surrounding them pursue continuing education programs to gain greater
self-awareness and insight into the world in which they live. Others, previously
lost to higher and secondary education because of family poverty, war, negative
educational experiences, limited gender-based expectations, and so forth, now
have opportunities to extend their learning experiences (Bowl 1992). Many who
attended college and earned bachelor's degrees without taking courses in
history, literature, music, or art and are now ready to pursue these subjects
for their own satisfaction (Cheney 1989).
HUMANITIES PROGRAMS FOR ADULTS
Four general types of
continuing education programs in the United States offer learners a number of
options for exploring the humanities: (1) credit and degree programs; (2)
noncredit programs; (3) extension programs that include distance learning; and
(4) public programs, many of which are funded through private foundations or
through federal agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
or the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Ohio Humanities Council (OHC) is affiliated with and, in part, funded by
the NEH. As a statewide nonprofit agency, its mission is to increase the role of
the humanities in the public and private lives of Ohio's citizens. Its premise
is that "the humanities offer insights into life's essential questions--Who am
I? What is my responsibility to other people? How does my life connect with a
larger history or culture?" (OHC 1991, p. 1).
The council obtains the support of many community and civic organizations to
promote its projects. For example, the "Always a River" project, which drew
38,000 Ohioans from 22 counties along the Ohio River, was supported by many of
the communities and organizations devoted to retaining memory of the Ohio River
history and culture. Programs funded through the OHC are designed to draw upon
the life experiences and interests of adults using history, philosophy,
literature, ethics, and other humanities to enlarge the scope of their learning
Humanities for Homeless Women, a pilot project co-sponsored by the Humanities
Council and the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, involved 14 women (Native
American, Anglo American, and African American) who were residents in YWCA
transitional housing. The women read short literary works by authors of similar
races and experiences, which led them to identify similarities between
themselves and the authors and to share their own stories with others in the
class (Baird 1994). The goal of the project was to promote learners' sense of
self-awareness, self-esteem, and multicultural identification. As Lynne Cheney
put it, "far from being remote and alien to the typical citizen, the humanities
are closest to what it means to be human, in that the disciplines of the
humanities are concerned with human experience and values" (McIntire 1990, p.
A number of recommendations for
incorporating humanities into continuing education program offerings appears in
the literature. A needs assessment is necessary to identify logistical as well
as intellectual needs of diverse learners. Explorations should include a wide
range of organizational program offerings, not just those offered by similar
institutions. Planners must consider the cultural setting of other institutions
in comparison to their own (House 1991).
A review of demographics is also essential. "Although only about 3 percent of
senior citizens participate in educational activities today, this is rapidly
changing and the rate is growing" (ibid., p. 132). As a group, House states,
older learners are:
likely to be between 65 and 69 years of age;
to live in 1 of 8 states: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Michigan,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas;
likely to live in 1 of 5 states: Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, or South
less likely to live in metropolitan areas than younger people; and
to engage in education activities in proportion to their previous educational
level (p. 133).
The goals for continuing liberal education must be explicitly stated and
reflect the importance of liberal learning (ibid., p. 67). Some examples follow:
exposure to issues in contemporary applied ethics relevant to college-educated
adults who are likely to have been away from formal learning for several years.
adults whose previous education emphasized technical and applied skills the
basics of rhetoric.
adults enjoy and appreciate the visual arts by acquainting them with the
resources available in the community.
adults ways that the interconnectedness among various disciplines can be
Gaining the support of faculty is essential to the success of any humanities
program. These faculty must not only believe in the philosophy of humanities
education and become involved in promoting its inclusion in program offerings,
but must also be equipped to teach and understand the course content. The
National Endowment for the Humanities' Division of Education Programs awards
grants for such faculty development. One example of an NEH award is "Building
Ethical Dialogues among Faculty and across Disciplines," a one-year project
conducted by Southern Oregon State Community College. The project supports 15
faculty members in the study of major texts in the humanities from the
perspective of the ethical issues they raise.
OUTLOOK FOR THE HUMANITIES
McIntire (1990) describes the
success of the Continuing Studies program initiated at Rice University: "The
growth of Continuing Studies has been steady. In 1982 we enrolled 2,500 total.
This year the total enrollment should be close to 9,000. I think that our growth
is an indication of the increased interest in the humanities and awareness of
their value. It is also a demonstration of the absolute necessity for
enlightened administration" (p. 10). She offers the following recommendations
COLLABORATION. Historical societies, reading clubs, museums, libraries, music
groups, and theatrical groups are all potential collaborators for continuing
education programs. Other groups include civic-minded professional people,
businesses, university faculty, alumni, and staff. Sometimes, small companies or
local community groups are receptive to sponsoring programs; larger communities
have other collaborative opportunities that can result in mutual benefit to all.
For example, "the Houston Symphony donates tickets to us (Rice University) to
give to participants. We help to develop the participants' awareness of
classical music...they go on to become Symphony subscribers and to take other
courses in Continuing Studies" (pp. 11-12).
COMMITMENT. The best faculty should be showcased in continuing studies, thus
building an audience of supporters. Learners may not know they need a course
that examines critical moments in modern history or that provides reflections on
the human spirit in the same way that they know they need a course in financial
Supporting a positive outlook for the humanities is the belief that teaching
and learning humanities subjects through continuing education may be one of
life's greatest pleasures for those who are teaching as well as those who are
learning. "Not only may humanities faculty bring much to adult learners, but
they may also learn from the learners as well" (ibid., p. 13).
Baird, I. C. "The Humanities for Homeless Women:
A Paradox in Learning." ADULT LEARNING 5, no. 3 (January-February 1994): 13-15.
Bowl, R. "University Adult Education: Backwards or Forwards." STUDIES IN THE
EDUCATION OF ADULTS 24, no. 2 (October 1992): 199-216.
Cheney, L. 50 HOURS: A CORE CURRICULUM FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS. Washington, DC:
National Endowment for the Humanities, 1989. (ED 308 804)
Gabel, J. D. "Report from the Chair and the Executive Director." REPORT TO
THE PEOPLE OF OHIO 1989-1991. Columbus: Ohio Humanities Council, 1991.
House, D. B. CONTINUING LIBERAL EDUCATION. New York: Macmillan, 1991.
McIntire, M. "The Humanities in Texas Continuing Education." TACSCE RESEARCH
ANNUAL 1990. VOLUME 6, NUMBER 1. Texas Association for Community Service and
Continuing Education, Fall 1990. (ED 333 147)
O'Brien, W. A. "Liberal Education through Training: Bringing Higher Education
to the Workplace." Position paper, 1986. (ED 283 542)
Ohio Humanities Council. GUIDE TO GRANTS FOR PUBLIC HUMANITIES PROGRAMS.
Columbus: Ohio Humanities Council, 1991.