Graduate Liberal Studies Program


Consonant with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's (UNCW's) mission "to stimulate in its students intellectual curiosity, ethics, imagination, rational thinking, thoughtful expression, and a love of learning," the Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) program at UNCW, consisting of both a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) degree and a post-Master's certificate in liberal studies, provides a highly integrated exploration of the liberal arts, which not only adheres to the traditional values of broad liberal arts education, but is specifically designed for highly motivated learners who wish to deepen their understanding of the social, scientific, and humanistic dimensions of today's world. Fundamental to UNCW's GLS program is its mission to prepare its students to meet the many complex challenges facing our society, the world and regional communities, most of which do not fall within the strict confines of a single discipline or professional degree program, but rather require a broader interdisciplinary perspective.

Typically, GLS programs reflect an older, cultural tradition of scholarship, which liberally educates the whole person, providing breadth and depth, but not applying directly to a career or vocation. The popularity of such programs attests to their widespread adoption, beginning in the l950s and continuing to the present, in colleges and universities from east to west, north to south, urban to rural settings. According to the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, there are currently nearly two hundred graduate liberal studies programs in the U.S., including our program and six others in the state of North Carolina. Links to the North Carolina programs are provided below (all these links are external to the UNCW website).

Though it shares many philosophical and curricular similarities to other graduate liberal studies programs, no other GLS program can offer exactly what UNCW has to offer. The Cape Fear region suggests many rich themes for advanced interdisciplinary study, many of which are currently under investigation by university researchers. Some examples are:

  • that the area's pre-colonial, Civil War, World War II, and civil rights eras have been extensively studied by both university and non-university historians.
  • UNCW's internationally prominent marine biology program offers interested students various approaches to the problems of coastal development and management.
  • Programs in health, physical education, and anthropology have addressed aspects of tourism.

The GLS program is likewise committed to UNCW's assumed role in initiating and coordinating programs that address the needs of its service region, which include:

  • the problems of responsible economic development, the impact of rapidly rising population on coastal resources,
  • the increase in the retired population,
  • and the need to improve public education and public health.

More specifically, the GLS program allows regional leaders such as community college and hospital board members, business and educational administrators, teachers, nurses, environmentalists, those working in the tourist industry and others to consider both individually and together the issues fundamental to improving the quality of life in southeastern North Carolina.

The objectives of UNCW's GLS program are clearly related to the desire of adults to continue learning over their lifetime. As students often tell their undergraduate college advisors, typical degree or professional programs leave little room for experimenting or for pursuing a line of study for the sheer pleasure of following one's intellectual curiosity. It is also true that the demands of state legislatures on faculty advisors to encourage students to complete their degrees within a four-year course of study leave many feeling that they may have missed some vital part of their education. Years later some people return to the university ready to follow their intellectual muse into more eclectic, less job-related or professional areas. These students often enter a GLS program. Thus, the primary purpose of the GLS program at UNCW is to provide students with the opportunity to design a personalized program of interdisciplinary graduate and post-master's study by selecting courses that will expand their interests and deepen their understanding of themselves, their society, and the environment. More specifically, the MALS degree program offers an alternative to standard professional/vocational degree programs such as the MBA or the Master of Arts in Teaching, a professionally oriented degree applicable to an immediate job, or the Master of Arts or Science, training candidates for future research.

Finally, then, the objectives of UNCW's GLS program are:

  • to provide a structured opportunity for students from various professional backgrounds to continue learning;
  • to encourage working professionals and other adults to make connections between important ideas and the world in which they live and work;
  • to train active, engaged citizens to think creatively about the problems that face their communities and the world around them; and
  • to improve the adult student's articulation skills, with particular emphasis on writing and oral argumentation.

Though conceptually the MALS degree is not a professional, vocational degree, employers are particularly attracted by graduates of GLS programs because they have been prepared to meet the challenges of a complex world. According to the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs (AGLSP), there are now more than 30,000 graduates of GLS programs nationwide. They reflect a national trend among adults who pursue life-long learning. As adults, they are often employed, full and part-time, and seek a way to fit education into busy adult lives. Balancing work, family and education is no easy task, which may explain why these adults look for flexible programs in which to continue their education. Clearly, the GLS student is one who can manage his or her own complicated personal life in order to fit in the time to pursue a graduate degree. Corporations faced with the need to "downsize" for the next century clearly look for individuals who are flexible, creative, and capable of managing complicated schedules and demands. Graduates of GLS programs have experienced and mastered these skills. Moreover, an AGLSP study indicates that GLS students come prepared to approach thorny problems facing our society and the world community from a broad interdisciplinary perspective. For example, philosophy and religion, science, history, literature, and social science perspectives enable people to address ethical issues such as those raised by the recently reported research on animal cloning. GLS students think through these contemporary questions. GLS graduates are thus uniquely prepared to solve problems on the job and in their communities. Clearly, then, learning to discuss today's problems from a diversity of perspectives provides the liberal studies graduate with a competitive edge in today's diverse corporate and business environments.

Special Features of UNCW's GLS Program

  • The opportunity to be part of the only GLS program in the eastern part of North Carolina and to study at one of the premier regional universities in the South as frequently acknowledged by annual surveys conducted by U.S. News and World Report.
  • An innovative curriculum, including: social concerns and cultural systems; environment, science and society; arts, literature, and society with post-baccalaureate certificates possible in gerontology and Hispanic studies.
  • The opportunity to create and pursue an individualized course of study that best meets the student's personal interests and needs.
  • Stimulating interaction with a mature, enthusiastic community of life-long learners.
  • Online asynchronous courses to accommodate the special needs of GLS students.
  • A personal, truly student-oriented touch, both in terms of academic counseling and a teaching faculty fully committed to teaching excellence.
  • Access to a first-rate academic library and state-of-the-art computing resources.
  • The opportunity to refine the student's communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills.
  • And, last but not least, the ability to obtain a MALS degree through solely online courses.

Last Update: April 18, 2018