LACS History

LACS began in 1984 when a group of nine computer scientists from liberal arts colleges met to address the problem that the then-current ACM standard curriculum for computer science was inappropriate and unachievable for most liberal arts colleges. The ACM standard known as "Curriculum 78" required students to complete 12 or more computer science courses, 6 math courses, and two lab science courses in order to earn a BS degree in computer science.

By contrast, the nine liberal arts colleges represented by this group (see list below) required their undergraduates to achieve breadth of study across the arts, sciences, and humanities as well as depth of study in a disciplinary major that was concentrated in principles and theory rather than in technical applications. This constituted the well-known liberal arts degree (often called a BA), in which a major typically required 8-9 discipline-specific courses.

Thus, for lack of an appropriate standard, few liberal arts colleges offered a computer science major in 1984. To offer an alternative that would bridge this philosophical divide, this first LACS group meeting created a "Draft Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science." This draft reaffirmed the values of liberal arts education and specified a 9-course computer science major whose core courses were rich in the theory of computing, and was widely circulated to the community for comment.

In 1985, the LACS group reconvened, added four new members (see list below), and revised its draft in response to the many suggestions received. As a result, the first "Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science" was published in Communications of the ACM in 1986 [1]. These first two meetings and their outcomes were supported in part by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The thirteen members of the 1984 and 1985 LACS groups are listed below (* indicates the original 9 members):

This 1986 Model Curriculum was widely implemented by liberal arts collegs across the country. Not only did it reflect their philosophy, it also showed how an undergraduate major could be created by a college that hired a minimum of three computer scientists, supported two dedicated computer science laboratories, and developed an institutional acceptance of computer science as a distinct discipline within the larger liberal arts framework. Since 1986, the LACS group has continued to meet annually and evolve to its present character and size of about 18 members (see the Who We Are page).

Throughout this 30-year period, LACS has made significant contributions to the national discussion of undergraduate computer science education. Individual LACS members have regularly published articles in ACM and SIGCSE-related journals on such topics as the importance of mathematics in computer science education, the integration of laboratory experiences in computer science courses, computer science enrollment trends, faculty recruiting, and the design of introductory and service courses. For a more careful treatment of these contributions, please visit the What We Do page.

In 1996, responding to the ACM/IEEE-CS Computing Curricula 1991 report, LACS published its "Revised Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science" [2]. This Revised Model Curriculum reaffirmed the distinctive principles that guide the teaching of computer science in a liberal arts setting, and also updated and modernized various details of the core courses themselves. A similar round of revisions occurred a decade later, when LACS published its "2007 Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science" [3] in response to the ACM/IEEE-CS Computing Curricula 2001 report.

In the most recent ACM/IEEE-CS model curriculum "Computing Curricula 2013" [4], two of the five curricular examplars are taken from the undergraduate CS programs of liberal arts colleges that are represented by current LACS members (Grinnell and Williams). At the time of this writing, fully 37 of the top 40 liberal arts colleges in the US News survey have fully developed computer science major programs. These two facts combine to provide strong indicators that the LACS Model Curricula of 1986, 1996, and 2007 have had significant impact on the development of undergraduate computer science.

[1] Gibbs, N. and Tucker, A., "A Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science," Communications ofthe ACM (29, 3) March, 1986, pp 202-210

[2] Walker, H. and Schneider, M., "A Revised Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science," Communications of the ACM (39, 12) December, 1996, pp 85-95

[3] LACS, "A 2007 Model Curriculum for a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer Science," ACM Journal of Educational Resources in Computing (7, 2) June 2007

[4] ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force, "Computing Curricula 2013"