Since its founding in 1826, Furman University has strived to fulfill a dual mission of academic excellence and a commitment to the larger world, first as an academy and theological institution, and later as a nationally recognized private university with a rigorous liberal arts and sciences core. In the past two decades, this mission has found new expression as the university embraced an innovative and robust program of engaged learning that augments classroom-based academic preparation with research, internships, and opportunities to study away from campus, exposing students to broader realms of learning. In addition to our focus on traditional undergraduate students, Furman has further embraced a public mission by extending our educational resources to lifelong learners, ranging from our youngest learners in our Child Development Center to the more than 2,000 adults participating in our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Furman.
Our history and present situation are playing out against a backdrop of recent national conversations about higher education, characterized in part by new expectations for colleges and universities to be even more attuned to societal needs, more accessible to an increasingly diverse populace, more inclusive and welcoming in climate, more active in nurturing student development, and more accountable for measurable results. The nature of the discussion is at times consumerist and often in tension with the expectation for institutions to support the overall comfort and well-being of students, both while on campus and in preparation for a healthy and thriving life. For Furman in particular these dueling paradigms threaten to undermine our belief in the profound role that a liberal arts and sciences education can play in preparing leaders, professionals, and involved citizens. In the world’s conflicts and in the recent breakdowns and loss of trust in global institutions, we see today more than ever the importance of producing broadly educated graduates who understand the power of diverse perspectives and are able to collaborate for the benefit of society.
In this moment we see an opportunity to launch a bold set of initiatives to become the model for what the world needs today from a university: a center of learning that reinvigorates the notion that the private good of educated individuals must inevitably accrue to the public good of community well-being.
Drawing on a wellspring of history and proven success, we look confidently to the next iteration of our mission and make a bold promise to our students and the communities we serve: Furman University will provide each and every one of our students with an unparalleled educational experience guided by a community of experts from within and outside of the campus, united by the aims of cultivating educated, confident, and successful leaders who are focused on addressing critical societal issues and dedicated to improving the well-being of their communities.
The argument for creating a new type of college experience is compelling:
- A national 2014 study of college graduates by Gallup and Purdue University found that students whose college experience included faculty mentorship and relevant professional practice connected to classroom and project-based learning were the most likely to be positively engaged at work and to be thriving in all aspects of their lives. Yet only 3 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that they had experienced all of these elements during college.
- In his book, “The Purposeful Graduate,” Tim Clydesdale evaluated the effect of Lilly Endowment–funded programs that engaged undergraduates on the question of purpose across 88 campuses and noted that “what parents and citizens seek, and educators promise, are college graduates who flourish, that is, young adults with positive goals for the short and long term, who show independence, responsibility, and active engagement with the community.” He found that alumni who engaged in purpose exploration programs during college were far more likely to be satisfied with their lives across a range of issues.
- According to two 2016 studies on career preparation (Stockton University; McGraw Hill), 71 percent of college students said that planning for a rewarding career is “extremely important,” but less than one-third of recent college graduates said they felt well prepared by college for a job and career. More hands-on practical experience, such as internships, is one of the most important ways students say colleges can add greater value to their experience.
There is a significant unmet need for a university to introduce a holistic model that ensures its students graduate with experiences and skills to be successful, to contribute to the broad well-being of society and of the communities in which they live, and to enjoy lives of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
A small but growing number of schools are addressing these gaps by attempting to develop a more integrated learning experience, but they have struggled to ensure a consistent experience for all students over all four years of college. Some colleges have focused on living-learning communities, undergraduate research, or preparation for careers, while others have targeted community service and engagement. Few schools, if any, have been able to fully integrate these student experiences from classroom to co-curricular activities.
Fewer still have bridged the widening gap between the academy and the broader community in more than superficial ways, missing an opportunity to connect the humanistic ideals of education with the democratizing effects of community engagement.
We believe Furman is distinctively positioned to achieve our goal of preparing students for lives of purpose and self-reflection, professional success, and civic engagement, combining the intimacy and personalized attention associated with small liberal arts colleges and the breadth of opportunities and connections associated with large universities. In so doing, we will build upon our areas of strength:
- A pioneering foray into engaged learning that has been refined and fully unified within our curriculum over the past two decades, a model that has been studied and adopted by many other universities seeking to augment classroom teaching with related intellectual experiences;
- A distinctive approach to international education, with nearly half of the student body participating in faculty-led study-away experiences in more than 30 countries that immerse them in the language, culture, business environment, socio-political history and current issues of their host nation;
- Longstanding excellence in undergraduate research, which allows Furman students to engage directly in research with faculty and present their findings at conferences;
- A nationally renowned commitment to sustainability led by the David E. Shi Center that extends far beyond conservation to encompass cross-disciplinary learning in the sciences (social, natural and physical), public policy, humanities, the arts, and community engagement;
- The Richard W. Riley Institute’s innovative and far-reaching work in public policy, education, and youth leadership in South Carolina, and its influential role in diversity training for nearly 1,800 of the state’s corporate, nonprofit, and civic leaders; and
- A partnership with the Greenville Health System, Clemson University, and the University of South Carolina to develop a shared academic health center that will educate health care professionals and foster research and partnerships that strengthen community health.
Each area of strength provides nearly boundless opportunities for intellectual and scholarly exploration. Perhaps most importantly, each also provides environments inside and outside campus for students to test their creativity and problem-solving skills among a diverse community of experts whose knowledge, inclination, and achievement make evident what it takes to get things done in the world.
These experts include our faculty, Student Life and other professional staff, and Furman alumni, as well as business, civic, and community leaders from Greenville and beyond. Together they create a coalition of mentors and provide an educational experience that exposes students to expansive definitions of talent, an appreciation for the complexities of pressing societal issues, the value of collective effort for innovation, and a deeper understanding of the interconnected nature of our world.
Furman University is poised to embrace a bold and exciting new iteration of its historic mission, transform the educational experiences of its students, and deliver to the world thoughtful men and women prepared to lead in a diverse, global world and dedicated to the work of building community well-being, both through civic leadership and through personal and professional success in their chosen fields.
Elements of The Furman Advantage
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The Furman Advantage guarantees every student an unparalleled education that combines classroom learning with real-world experiences and self-discovery. This integrated four-year pathway prepares students for lives of purpose and accelerated career and community impact—demonstrating in concrete terms the value of a Furman education.