The Future of Gen Ed Recap, Part 6

The Future of Gen Ed Recap, Part 6 February 27, 2020

I am at long last reaching the end of this extended recap of the day workshop on the future of gen ed, arriving at the final Q&A. These are much more diffuse and scattered than what I offered in previous posts, since here there were diverse questions and my own mind was pulling together the threads from the whole experience. 

It was fascinating to hear how each constituency on some campuses insists that they know what is needed: Engineering students saying they have no room for additional courses, liberal arts students demanding a diversity requirement, Jewish students asking that Judaism be included as diversity when others insist the requirement should focus on race and specifically on the issues of race that are central to America’s history of injustice. Someone commented that if students feel they can make demands and push back, that is already a good sign about the direction you (and they) are headed in. We can seize the opportunity in these circumstances to teach students how to have a civil, serious, respectful conversation about this. The campus community is a microcosm of our broader society. Not everyone agrees, not everyone gets their way, but everyone can be respected.

The diversification of faculty and administration only way to effectively address diversity. Improving diversity is everyone’s job. If something is just in the core, it is not enough. If your students don’t find mentors who look and sound like them, it is a hurdle.

It is no good to encourage faculty to create something beautiful, and then say there is no money. It is essential to have allies with funds.

Put money into retention. Diversity and equity always means retention.

Pam Eddinger said presidents will find money for things they care about – don’t let them lie to you.

Many said that it was not true to their experience that rigor in gen ed scares students off. Hard courses consistently fill, students love being challenged. The issue is not only about rigor but relevance to life.

The issue of how to get faculty involved in teaching in the core or general education. An institution for which this is important will write it into the job description of new hires.

Eddinger said students transferring from community college to 4-year need to have what they bring with them recognized. he referred to Nathan Grawe’s work. We need to meet students where they are and give them credit for what they have done previously to the extent possible and appropriate.

Residency requirements piece in Inside Higher Ed, about how much of a student’s academic coursework has to be at the institution granting the diploma. OK to have requirement of this sort if it makes sense and has a good rationale.

If your program is really distinctive then makes sense not to accept transfer credit, but the flip side is the failure to welcome students and recognize what they have already done. 

Is there a way that, with modern technology, we could track what students have wrestled with rather than what classes they have taken? 

We do a pretty terrible job in this country of transferring credits between institutions. The assumption that our gen ed courses are distinctive not always justified.

It was suggested that we are currently following a cottage industry model. We regularly spend time reinventing wheels instead of crafting the best courses and using them across multiple locations nationwide.

Faculty don’t like to collaborate across institutions. It gets messy. Yet we also don’t want the Pearsons of the world to come in and offer a solution.

Students should be doing new things rather than taking the same class again, even if the same topic will indeed be treated differently than at another institution.

The AAC&U rubrics and related tools are there to help us do meaningful assessment at the micro and macro level.

Catholic universities did a study which showed a higher level of participation in mass and giving to charity for those who study at their institutions, which has been pointed to in answering critics who challenged the Catholic identity of the universities in question.

Where are there things that we have yet to identify SLOs for and evaluate?

Doug Lederman asked whether we are doing more scrambling of thinking than coalescing. If so, that is probably OK. Refocused perspective as a result of today may come later. It was asked who speaks for higher education collectively. Intentionality was said to be important. We can prove at least to ourselves that what we do has value.

A lot of assessment work on campuses not is very valuable, too granular, only at the course level.

We need clear institutional goals and outcomes for students, then deliberate effort to develop curriculum to get them there.

There was skepticism about mission statements, but mission definitely matters.

We need clarity when it comes to the rationale for gen ed, and we need students to hear that rationale.

More faculty were present at this event than has been typical.

Elsewhere the focus has been on finishing in three years, unbundling. Unbundling is fine as long as there is also rebundling. Just unbundling may rob students of the benefits of gen ed, especially poorer students.

An interesting observation in light of the event was that there is no obvious difference between the gen ed goals at Bunker Hill and Harvard. The same core aims make sense, but some high impact practices are only accessible to the rich. Similarly, across institutions there are different resource levels but common goals.

Of related interest: the return of the (hiring of the) liberal arts major, Lynn Pasquerella on the value of the liberal arts major, long term earnings of liberal arts college graduatesmarketing oneself as a liberal arts major, and not prematurely sounding the death knell for small liberal arts colleges. Plus an attempt to connect general education and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And:

Why go to college?

Re-thinking Leadership

Ignore the Hype: College is Worth It

Another recommendation to ignore critics of the value of education in general and highed education in particular

The number 1 challenge when it comes to student success

Some colleges start to confront a surprising reason students fail: Too many choices

The handiness of Humanities

What core courses should be required?


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