Nearly one third of NAC&U members have revised or are in the process of revising longstanding general education requirements to better meet students’ expectations of the higher education experience and to prepare them to succeed in their careers and as citizens.
“The biggest concern for faculty at Drury University and other NAC&U institutions is doing what’s right for students,” said Beth Harville, provost at Drury University, which recently unveiled a comprehensive remodel of its undergraduate experience. “Our job is not to prepare students for today’s world but for what the world will look like in the future.”
Some institutions are working on very specific problems, such as introducing more flexibility in order to facilitate transfer student credits or accommodate double majors, minors, and study abroad. Belmont University made ‘modest cuts’ to its general education, which was initially passed in 2003, to make it easier for students to add a foreign language minor or place transfer credits, while maintaining the integration of high-impact practices across a vertically integrated curriculum, noted Noel Boyle, director of general education at Belmont. St. Edward’s University was able to reduce their general education curriculum from 57 to 43 credit hours. To accommodate transfer students they reviewed and approved Texas core courses that match the university’s desired learning outcomes. In addition, introductory courses in the major that meet the learning outcomes can fulfill general education requirements, which has reduced the need for contingent faculty while increasing student engagement with full time, tenure-track faculty.
While all of the curriculum revisions have unique end results, the common process was to begin with the end in mind. Campuses first defined learning outcomes and then designed the curriculum. Lisa Long, associate provost and dean of College Programs, Academic Affairs at North Central College, said that this represented an intentional shift from offering courses that reflected faculty desire and training. Rick Gillman, associate provost at Valparaiso University, echoed Long’s sentiment, noting that in the past learning objectives and assessment were often retrofitted to courses.
Some, such as Wagner College and Hamline University, utilized principles from AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), including essential learning outcomes, high-impact practices, and capstone projects across disciplines. Part of Wagner College’s new ‘Wagner Plan for 21st Century Learning’ curriculum requires students to select courses that develop six skill areas. Rather than having students tick off boxes to indicate they’ve taken ‘foundation courses’ such as writing, math, history, English literature, speech, and technological competency, students list the intensive courses and practice/exposure they’ve had in the skill areas of creativity, critical reading and analysis, technological competency/information literacy, written communication, oral communication, and quantitative thinking.
Reinforcing the Commitment to Educating the Whole Student
In many cases, institutions are making sure that the required curriculum aligns with mission. Valparaiso University, which is in the process of its general education revision, is working on a requirement that will directly tie into its mission to prepare students to “lead and serve.” St. Edward’s University’s mission states that its faculty and staff will “encourage individuals to confront the critical issues of society and to seek justice and peace. Students are helped to understand themselves, clarify their personal values and recognize their responsibility to the world community.” Under the new general education curriculum, each undergraduate must complete four mission markers — writing (two markers), social identities, and experiential learning for social justice — which can be fulfilled via general education or in the major.
Many institutions have added requirements that aim to set students on a path toward professional and personal success. North Central College added a community-engaged learning requirement and a ‘well-being’ requirement which can be in either financial literacy, emotional health, physical health, or spirituality. Hamline University faculty articulated a new requirement in collaborative problem solving and in global citizenship. St. Edward’s University added a course requirement in which the student must create or produce something (creative writing or painting, for example). Drury University now specifies that each graduate will have at least three hands-on experiences, at least one of which will be in the major.
Undertaking these revisions has prompted institutions to think holistically about the college students’ experiences, and many of the changes reflect a shift in thinking about the first-year, senior year, and how the students processes their experiences.
“Ultimately, we aim to provide a coherent pathway that will guide student academic and pre-professional development from the moment they step onto our campus to graduation and beyond,” said Marcela Kostihova, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Hamline University.
North Central College will introduce two first-year seminars (one each semester) that emphasize written and oral communication by bringing together academic affairs and student affairs, as students consider the topic of ‘place’ which will include the concept of home and how it changes as students go through college. Students will then take four courses from different disciplines that relate to one of eight contemporary topics including inequity, sustainability, and health, known as iCons, which stands for interdisciplinary connections. At Drury University, students will be able to apply in groups or as individuals for experiential grants to fund their capstone projects. St. Edward’s University has changed its general education capstone to a culminating experience, such as a one-act play or business plan, in the student’s major. Students will need to discuss how this combines their work in their major and the general education curriculum.
Assessing the Outcomes
With all of these changes in place, it will be important to know whether the revisions are producing the desired results. Belmont University has already noted that advising is going more smoothly with its streamlined requirements. Soon it will assess whether it has led to an increase in foreign language minors.
“Ideally general education revisions would happen every five to ten years, and given that it’s a multi-year process, institutions always need to be revising their core curriculum to meet changing needs of students and institutions,” said Cory Lock, associate vice president of general education at St. Edward’s University.
Drury University Your Drury Fusion – Overview
North Central College Cardinal Directions – Overview
St. Edward’s University – Overview and Requirements
Hamline Plan – (Hamline University) Requirements
Belmont University BELL Core Curriculum – Learning Outcomes
Wagner College will present its general education revision in a panel presentation titled “Implementing LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes as a Workable Undergraduate Curriculum” at the 2019 AAC&U Annual Meeting. Currently the presentation is scheduled for Friday, January 25, from 8:45 – 10 a.m.
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