Redefining Liberal Arts

These DFW schools are changing our perception of liberal arts institutions


“Austin College is a small liberal arts college where big things happen,” writes Austin College President Steven O’Day in a letter from the president’s office. “Since 1849, Austin College has maintained an unwavering commitment to the transformative power of education, not only for the individual but for our communities and our world. We are committed to the breadth of a liberal arts education and equipping students with the ability to think critically and [problem-solve] and communicate effectively so that they can succeed today and in the rapidly changing world of the future.”

Located about an hour north of downtown Dallas, Sherman, Texas, is home to one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the Lone Star State. Liberal arts colleges differ from the traditional two- or four-year higher education institutions by being smaller in size and focusing on undergraduate study in the liberal arts and sciences. The liberal arts college model believes that while graduates have different majors of study, developing intellectual and leadership capacities with broad general knowledge creates well-rounded students ready to take on leadership roles in any discipline.

But don’t let the word ‘arts’ in Austin College’s description fool you — Austin College is home to excellent STEM programs and touts a 90% acceptance rate for students applying to health science professional schools. The difference at Austin College is the approach to rigorous academics supported by individual attention, one-to-one faculty mentoring, and access to academic resources, as well as internships and the opportunity for undergraduates to conduct research alongside faculty. National recognition by the awarding of prestigious grants includes the $1.2 million Noyce grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for STEM education and an additional $650,000 granted from the NSF for the “ACCESS” (Austin College’s Career-Empowering STEM Scholars) program for academically talented and financially needy students majoring in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics in preparation for STEM careers.

Austin College is a historical liberal arts college that has built on already innovative students, faculty and staff to blend an old model with the new demands of technology and industry — educating lifelong learners who are ready to take on the challenges of the growing DFW Region.


With a liberal arts core curriculum that builds on real-world business- savvy courses, the University of Dallas (UD) has created a “secret sauce” in cultivating the next brilliant minds in business and the liberal arts.

First founded as a small Catholic university in 1910, UD has grown with the DFW Region. As more Fortune 500 companies relocated their headquarters to DFW, UD met the call and created a stand-alone business school — outside of the traditional undergraduate liberal arts programs — to meet the needs of the top-tier businesses relocating to the Irving-Las Colinas and Dallas areas. The Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business, officially named in 2013 with a $12 million donation from the Guptas (UD Graduate School of Management alumni), offers numerous business degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. The college is also designated a Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security for Cybersecurity. Program offerings include Doctor of Business Administration (the only one in Texas), Master of Business Administration and Master of Science degrees in accounting, business analytics, cybersecurity, finance, and information and technology management, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in business.

While the business school has garnered national recognition, the academic rigor and mission-driven core curriculum are what make the institution stand out in the DFW Region. UD holds one of the nation’s highest percentages of National Merit Scholars enrolled, as compared to other Catholic colleges and universities. All undergraduates participate in the nationally recognized Core Curriculum, a two-year, 60-credit sequence of classes focused on the Great Books of Western literature and culture. The intentionally designed student-faculty ratio of 10:1 means that Core classes are kept small, allowing students to participate in thoughtful, meaningful dialogue with their peers and their professors, both in and out of the classroom.

UD is modeling how a historic liberals arts college can build on core values to create market-driven courses in business, cybersecurity and IT that ensure its students are filling the needs of regional employers and earning a high postgraduate wage.

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.