The Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges advances the aims of its member institutions and drives awareness of the value of high-quality, public liberal arts education in a student-centered, residential environment.

Established in 1987 and now consisting of 30 colleges and universities in 28 states and 1 Canadian province, COPLAC represents a distinguished sector in higher education. Some campuses have received designation from their state legislatures or public university systems as the state’s public liberal arts college or the public honors college for the liberal arts. Others have carved out a less formal but no less visible role as such in their states or province.

COPLAC serves both external and internal constituencies. It communicates to state and federal policy makers the vital importance and benefits of providing students with comprehensive public higher education in the liberal arts and sciences. It collaborates with major national higher education organizations like the Association of American Colleges and Universities to advance the aims of liberal learning in a global society.

COPLAC enjoys an organizational and administrative structure that facilitates member collaborations, including multi-campus faculty and student research projects, professional development opportunities for faculty and professional staff, and enhanced information sharing through its interactive web portal. COPLAC has developed regional undergraduate research conferences and a web-based platform for outstanding scholarship at the undergraduate level. COPLAC campuses have started to share online courses across the disciplines to increase curricular opportunities for students. Students who enroll at a COPLAC institution are now directly engaged in the wider mission of public liberal arts education, the best preparation for a meaningful life and professional career.

The Governing Board of COPLAC consists of the 30 Presidents/Chancellors or their designees. The Board elects a president of the organization for a two-year term and the full board meets on a semi-annual basis. The Board also elects an Executive Committee whose members oversee the administrative work of the Director of COPLAC.

The COPLAC office is located on the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville. The staff works actively with member institutions to improve the quality of liberal arts and sciences education on member campuses.

Meet our team

Cole Woodcox
Executive Director
Cole works with colleagues across the consortium on programs and initiatives to strengthen public access to a liberal arts education.  Before joining COPLAC in 2017, he served as a professor of English, department chair, faculty governance representative, and academic advisor at Truman State University, a COPLAC member institution.  He also served on the Kirksville Historic Preservation Commission and on the executive board of the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation. Cole holds a DPhil and MPhil in English from the University of Oxford, an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and a BA in English from the University of Utah.  Woodcox has received several awards for teaching including the Governor of Missouri’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  He has written on Edith Wharton, travel literature, architectural history, and has nominated several buildings to the National Register of Historic Places.

220 Campus Drive, CPO 1100, Asheville North Carolina 28804

Claire Bailey
Program Director
Claire is a native of Asheville, NC and joined the COPLAC team in 2013. She has a bachelor's degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management from North Carolina State University and a master's degree in Library and Information Studies from University of North Carolina Greensboro. She is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management, and serves on the board of two local nonprofit organizations.

220 Campus Drive, CPO 1100, Asheville North Carolina 28804

Tess Walker
Web Developer
Tess has worked as COPLAC's web developer since 2022, and she is an experienced designer and programmer. She is a 2023 UNCA undergraduate, looking for a degree in New Media and Computer Science.



COPLAC Committees and Board

Executive Director’s Welcome
Small classes, mentor-instructors, and transformative opportunities characterize COPLAC’s member institutions. Our thirty nationally-recognized colleges and universities provide a liberal arts education at an affordable price. Combining excellence and accessibility, COPLAC campuses are small to medium-sized. They focus mainly on undergraduate education and exemplify the residential college experience. Whether working in classrooms or communities, studios or labs, libraries or galleries, internships or study abroad programs, our students, staff, faculty, visiting artists and scholars come together and create vibrant educational environments.

Working at a public liberal arts college has profoundly shaped me as a teacher, scholar, and administrator. My own lifelong commitment to liberal arts education was formed in places where I learned from, was mentored by, and have worked with incredible, multi-disciplinary people. A liberal arts education ask us to think deeply about issues that shape our lives. It has us consider often conflicting positions, arrange multiple viewpoints, and navigate through them. We learn across significant differences and, through that learning, are made flexible.
Why a Liberal Arts Education?
The liberal arts tradition emphasizes community. Ancient Romans brought together a word-based sequence of knowledge (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) with a numbers-based sequence (mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy). Together with an eighth area – the love of knowledge (philosophy) – these formed the artes liberales, the art of free people, the art of a citizen in public life.

So why is a 2000-year old tradition for free people relevant to you now?

Because working with those eight areas and their contemporary descendants (the humanities and sciences) stresses looking at issues, and considering opportunities, and thinking about solutions from multiple perspectives. Working with multiple perspectives asks you, and asks the college where you study, to be supple. Be flexible. Be agile. Studying multiple areas of knowledge, rather than centering on just one area, invites you to be deeply curious. It invites you to be more, not less. It invites you to slow down, listen to different voices, and have the courage to make connections.