Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
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The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MA, ALM, MLA, MLS, or MALS) is a graduate degree that aims to provide both depth and breadth of study in the liberal arts. It is by nature an interdisciplinary program, generally pulling together coursework from a number disciplines such as behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences designed to train students to think critically and contextually about their own fields of discipline as well a diverse range of issues. Similar graduate degrees are known as Master of Liberal Arts (MLA), Master of Liberal Studies (MLS), Artium Liberalium Magister (ALM), and Doctor of Liberal Studies (DLS). Characteristics that distinguish these degrees include curricular flexibility and interdisciplinary synthesis via a Master's thesis or capstone project.
Like other Master's degree programs, students generally enroll in a master's in liberal studies only after receiving a bachelor's degree. As of 2005[update], there were over 130 colleges and universities offering liberal arts master's programs. Admissions criteria vary by institution.
Postgraduate liberal studies originated at Wesleyan University in 1953. Administrators sought to 'break graduate education free' from what they perceived as 'the bonds of overspecialization' that were then prevalent at colleges and universities throughout the United States and Europe. Initially aimed at professors and teachers, postgraduate liberal studies quickly gained popularity and became a cause célèbre during the progressive education movements of the 1960s. Then as now, Liberal Studies programs tend to draw courses and instructors from across a university's postgraduate curriculum. Students often devise unique courses of study to suit their individual interests, passion, and scholarly curiosity. Typically liberal arts graduate programs are designed to counter the trend in modern education toward specialization and toward a career focus, offering instead the opportunity to explore ideas, to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and learning for the joy of the intellectual challenge.
Many institutions followed Wesleyan's initiative. Early proponents of graduate liberal studies included Johns Hopkins University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Stony Brook University, Southern Methodist University, and Georgetown University. Other prestigious universities such as Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Brown University, Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Southern California, Skidmore College, Rutgers University, Emory University, and The Graduate Center CUNY have graduate degrees in liberal studies. Starting in 1998 Excelsior College offered this program to distance learning students.
In 2005, Georgetown University became the world's first university to offer a Doctor of Liberal Studies. The Doctorate in Liberal Studies is offered through The School of Continuing Studies and the Graduate School at Georgetown.
The Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs supports the work of the many member universities and colleges by holding a national conference each year and by publishing Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies, which features writing by faculty and students of the member institutions.