In 2000, a group of leading liberal arts institutions from across the nation came together with the idea of creating a flexible, comprehensive system that synthesizes and disseminates key aspects of their success and serves as an incubator for new, improved, learning practices. In September of 2001, the institutions realized the vision of The Consortium for Innovative Environments in learning when they were awarded a grant of $772,263 from the U.S. Department of Education Fund for Improvement Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

The impetus for CIEL was the conviction that so-called “alternative” colleges and universities have much to contribute to the national dialogue on higher education, as well as to one another from the perspective of their varying stages of development.   The original project directors noted that while there have been three gatherings of “alternative” colleges in the past 20 years they did not yield deep dialogue and self-examination. The authors of the proposal envisioned a consortium in which a greater number of alternative institutions and institutions inviting change would collaborate toward three primary objectives:

  1. Mutual support—to develop effective means and measures to support continued improvement and innovation in student learning;
  2. Institutional sharing—to implement a process for the concrete sharing of powerful practices and pedagogical approaches, as well as personnel, students, and curriculum through collective cost-effective projects, programs, and products; and
  3. Outreach—to implement transfer processes by which other colleges and universities seeking to transform all or parts of their learning environments and institutional structures can adapt consortium members’ best practices.

The founding partners are The Evergreen State College (WA); Alverno College (WI); Arizona International College (AZ) Hampshire College (MA); Fairhaven College at Western Washington University (WA); New College of the University of South Florida (FL); and Pitzer College (CA). In the first year the Arizona Board of Regents’ decision to close CIEL’s lead institution, Arizona International College , and the project was successfully transferred to Hampshire College . Daemen College later came on board as the newest member, having first been an institutional partner during the transformation of its core curriculum.

During its first year, CIEL brought faculty and administrators from all member institutions together to learn from each other about existing programs and possibilities for collaboration, especially in the area of international education. During this year the members also developed a website, held a CIEL Coordinators’ videoconference, and compiled an Institutional Assets list. Since then, CIEL initiatives have grown to include an online student journal, an undergraduate research symposium, inter-institutional exchange opportunities for both faculty and students, collaborative grant projects, and presentations at national conferences.

In July of 2004, the member institutions each leveraged resources to hire an Executive Director. We are currently recruiting members to become involved in our efforts, and we are devoting significant energy to developing presentations and materials for national conferences.

The CIEL Mission Statement and Operating Principles were updated in April of 2007.  Download in  PDF