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September 23, 2008 , Volume 55, No. 5

Ben on Bench

Addressing Emerging Needs in Liberal and Professional Education

Kristine Billmyer

The College of General Studies (CGS) of the School of Arts and Sciences has undertaken a multi-year process of institutional renewal that reached a defining moment on September 16, 2008. On that date CGS assumed a new name that more accurately reflects its strengths and renewed mission: the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, or LPS for short. 

Transition and innovation are not new concepts for CGS.  Formed in 1892 under the descriptive title “College Courses for Teachers” to provide a mechanism to offer instruction to local educators, the program became known in 1933 as “College Collateral Courses.”  In 1958, reflecting the program’s growth into an entity offering not only a sizable number of courses but the BA and AA degrees as well, the name was changed to the College of General Studies.

As with the earlier name changes, there are weighty reasons behind the transition from CGS to LPS.  Higher education itself has undergone a tremendous change in recent years, and CGS experienced this transformation first-hand as an entirely new audience has flocked to our doors.  More and more pre- and mid-career professionals are returning to campus to seek advanced knowledge in the arts and sciences.  While LPS will continue to serve our traditional base of adult students seeking undergraduate degrees, today the single largest group of students are drawn here for post-baccalaureate study in master’s and pre-professional programs. 

These students come to Penn with purpose and urgency, and a strong sense of the problems facing the world in the 21st century. Moreover, they bring to Penn a unique combination of intellectual talent, maturity, and a broad spectrum of experience.  Beth Gingold, a 2007 Master of Environmental Studies graduate, is now working with an NGO in Bangalore that seeks to improve urban governance through advocacy and increasing citizen participation.  Primrose Oteng from Botswana will be earning a Master of Applied Positive Psychology this year.  Primrose is a civilian UN peacekeeper working in Darfur who wants to apply positive psychology to international peacekeeping efforts. 

Our students tell us that they consciously choose our programs over the vast array of other educational opportunities available, precisely because we offer a distinctive and rigorous education.  Many—like Alice Crane, who returned to Penn for the Post-baccalaureate Classical Studies Program—are Penn alumni or alumni from other top colleges and universities who seek a liberal and professional education from an institution on a par with the ones from which they graduated. 

Because of these trends, nearly three years ago CGS began actively to expand its mission, to create a new vision of liberal and professional education that is central to the core academic mission of the University, and to make it available to intellectually outstanding individuals when they can have the greatest impact on society. 

LPS Logo

Institutional Renewal

The key elements of this new vision and mission are to create innovative, academically rigorous programs that align the intellectual strengths of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences with the demands of a knowledge-based economy, emerging professions, and new audiences.  In order to accomplish this ambitious agenda, two years ago CGS implemented an extensive internal reorganization and has enhanced its academic leadership and expertise in program development, curriculum design, market research, marketing, and financial planning and analysis.  As a result LPS is increasingly better positioned to determine the educational needs of emerging professions and respond proactively with programs that integrate knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and that can be scaled and sustained at robust levels. 

New and reinvigorated professional master’s degrees in particular—Environmental Studies, Applied Geosciences, Positive Psychology, Urban Spatial Analytics, Medical Physics, and Liberal Arts—provide examples of our success in this arena.  The newly renovated Master of Medical Physics curriculum will debut this fall for a cohort of carefully recruited and selected students. This curriculum is designed to produce a new breed of medical physicists better prepared to apply advanced physics to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease and to stretch the performance of new technology.

LPS has worked to establish itself as a campus-wide partner in delivering many of these innovative programs of liberal and professional studies.  We have proactively cultivated closer working relationships with SAS faculty, the College of Arts and Sciences, and other schools, programs, and faculty across Penn to ensure alignment of programs with the University’s intellectual strengths, standard of excellence, and institutional resources.  New LPS partners outside Penn come from near and far:from the Department of State with a multi-year grant to host a critical language program in Korean, to several Asian universities whose students can earn dual degrees. 

Paralleling the cultivation of relationships to spur innovation has been an increase in quality in current programs through tightened admissions standards at the undergraduate and graduate levels, teaching excellence initiatives, and faculty involvement.  The new Leidy Postdoctoral Lecturers Program simultaneously provides mentoring for LPS lecturers in biology and the opportunity to take part in the research activities of participating faculty of the Department of Biology.  In collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Economics Department, we recently introduced a formal training program for graduate students teaching Economics courses in LPS and Summer Sessions.  As we work closely with SAS departments and the College to ensure the quality of instruction, we are also working to achieve appropriate course rosters and targeted growth in enrollments. 

Finally, to successfully compete for the best students, we have radically expanded our national and international recruitment efforts and developed LPS International.  To increase access to outstanding students from across the country and around the world we have developed new course formats, from online learning through eCollege to the combined on-site/online format of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree. 


It is not enough to have a vision.  It must be articulated in a way that resonates not only in the Penn community but in the larger community of intellectually qualified potential students who are intent on making their mark upon the world.  With the full support of the Office of the President and the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, CGS embarked upon the process of renaming and articulating its new identity. 

To help us in this endeavor a professional higher education marketing and communications firm gathered input from a variety of stakeholders.  The consensus that emerged confirmed our belief that LPS’ new direction is very important for the School of Arts and Sciences and for Penn: to create programs of distinction for highly motivated and intellectually outstanding students who seek an education that engages their minds, advances their careers, and inspires them to make an impact on society.

The transition from CGS to LPS is an exciting opportunity not just for this segment of Penn but for the University as a whole.  In extending the reach of the innovative programs that we have developed and will continue to develop, we are extending the reach of the University itself in a way that adds to and enhances Penn’s reputation for academic excellence and forward-thinking.  It is an exciting moment, and an awesome responsibility that we are eager to assume.

We invite faculty and programs to seek us out with your ideas and extend an invitation to the entire University community to join us in this endeavor.

See www.sas.upenn.edu/lps.


Kristine Billmyer is the Associate Dean, SAS and Executive Director, College of Liberal and Professional Studies.



Almanac - September 23, 2008, Volume 55, No. 5