June 29, 2016
Johnson State College has been designated Vermont’s premier public liberal arts college — a recognition that establishes JSC as the public version of Vermont’s more selective and costly private liberal arts colleges, such as Middlebury and Bennington.
The designation comes from the board of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), which voted unanimously June 29 during its annual meeting in Utah to approve JSC for membership in the organization.
COPLAC recognizes institutions that “commit to providing superior liberal arts and sciences education to their students” and generally accepts only one college or university per state (or province, in Canada) for membership following an extensive application and review process.
The recognition not only reinforces Johnson’s alignment with the mission of liberal arts education, it speaks to the quality of the academic and student experience at JSC. It also serves to clarify the college’s institutional identity within the five-college Vermont State Colleges (VSC) system. “This carves out a distinctive niche for us,” notes JSC President Elaine Collins.
“The mission of COPLAC is to make sure that students receive a transformative, high-impact educational experience, like that offered by the top U.S. private colleges,” she adds. “A strong liberal arts education prepares students to be critical thinkers, to work through problems collaboratively, to understand what it means to be part of a global society. These are vitally important skills in our complex and rapidly changing world, and they in fact are the top skills sought by employers today.”
COPLAC membership is reserved for predominantly undergraduate and residential colleges and universities that confer more than half of their degrees in traditional liberal arts disciplines and “provide students of high ability and from all backgrounds access to an outstanding liberal arts education.” Member schools provide many opportunities for students in community service and other civic engagement, support a range of activities beyond academics, and typically have fewer than 5,000 students.
COPLAC membership extends a number of benefits to JSC students and faculty. For undergraduates, opportunities include regional research conferences, grant-funded research with mentors at other schools, campus exchanges and summer study-abroad programs. Faculty opportunities include short- and long-term exchanges, mentoring students at other institutions, and academic department and program reviews through peer visits. COPLAC also works with members to advance their goals and advocate the value of a liberal arts education with federal and state policymakers.
“COPLAC membership is a perfect fit for Johnson State College given its historical commitment to the liberal arts and its longstanding regard for critical thinking and social justice,” says Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding. “It’s something that the board of trustees and I enthusiastically support, knowing that it will strengthen the college and also enhance the reputation of the region as a whole.”
Achieving COPLAC designation has been a priority for Collins in her first year as JSC president. COPLAC representatives visited campus three times during the 2015-16 academic year, meeting with JSC students, faculty and staff as part of its nearly year-long assessment of the college’s fit for membership. COPLAC institutions are evaluated on a number of factors, including their commitment to “offer a broad education with an emphasis on educating the whole person, rather than simply imparting specific skills” and to “prepare students for a life of active citizenship and public service.”
Established in 1987 and based in North Carolina, COPLAC now comprises 30 colleges and universities in 28 states and one Canadian province. For more information, visit coplac.org and read COPLAC’s blog post about JSC’s acceptance as the organization’s 30th member.