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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Liberal-arts consortium knits together 5 small colleges

This summer, three small Northwest liberal arts colleges are teaching a course together as part of a five-college collaboration that could eventually help the schools deliver education more efficiently and provide stronger class offerings to their students.

It’s a move that reflects a growing national trend  among colleges to pool talent and resources.

The schools — including the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and  Whitman College in Walla Walla — established the consortium three years ago, and this summer will offer their first class, in local food systems.

The project is called the Northwest Five Consortium, and it also includes Lewis & Clark College and Reed College, both in Portland, and Willamette University in Salem, Ore.

The Whitman College campus in Walla Walla. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2009.

The Whitman College campus in Walla Walla. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2009.

Collaborating in this fashion offers a number of benefits, said Kristine Bartanen, academic vice-president and dean of UPS.  It helps faculty members become connected to colleagues at other schools. It may result in economies of scale if the schools find that they can share resources, Bartanen said. And it may result in a richer menu of course offerings for students.

For example, each individual school in the consortium may not have enough students to offer a course in some less commonly-taught language. Working together, however, the schools could offer a course in that language using distance learning tools — such as live video — to all the students in the consortium.

“We envision there would be some face-to-face components, but also some pieces using high-definition technology,” Bartanen said.

The first class to be offered by the consortium is a three-week course on food systems that will be taught by Whitman, UPS and Willamette. Students will travel across the Northwest, visiting a wheat farm in the Palouse, urban farms in Tacoma and the Zena Forest & Farm owned by Willamette University as they learn about how food is grown and its impact on people, politics and the economy.

The consortium is being sponsored by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Comments | More in News | Topics: higher ed, liberal arts

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