Goucher Redefines Liberal Arts

Washington Post: “At Goucher College, students no longer need to take a broad range of introductory classes outside their major to graduate. For non-science majors, Introduction to Biology has been replaced by Disease and Discrimination, a course that crosses disciplines to explore the inequalities in access to health care. Introduction to Philosophy was dropped for Society in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Math has become Integrative Data Analytics. Responding to a growing national debate over the relevance of a traditional liberal arts education, Goucher and other small, private liberal arts colleges … have adjusted course offerings, lowered tuition, added graduate classes that lead to employment and developed other strategies to attract students.”

“The long-held academic requirements to take a broad range of courses in a variety of disciplines have been replaced with multidisciplinary courses called ‘complex problem explorations.’ Instead of introductory classes, students take courses that might be taught by a biology professor but use a variety of disciplines to look at a contemporary issue …Because employers seek workers who can operate in teams, the college requires students to work collaboratively at times.”

“St. John’s College in Annapolis, a tiny institution with two campuses, wasn’t going to change its curriculum, which is dedicated to teaching the classics. So it took another bold approach, dropping its tuition from $52,000 a year to $35,000 … St. John’s leadership believes that small colleges can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep them afloat. Instead, colleges will have to rely on philanthropy … St. John’s has used its tuition drop to launch a capital campaign that has so far raised $200 million toward its goal of $300 million. A year after cutting tuition costs, applications are up 13 percent and the percentage of admitted students who are committed to attending has risen as well.”

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DePaul Tour: A Distinctly Vincentian Education

Never afraid of getting too much of a good thing, we squeezed in one last college tour during our Chicago whirlwind. With just hours to spare before our return flight, we grabbed a slow Lyft to DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus — the residential, horizontal one, as compared to its more compact high-rise Loop campus located about five miles, or 20 minutes, south.

DePaul is a big, private, university of about 16,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate students, making it America’s largest Catholic university. What comes clear, pretty quickly, is that DePaul’s Catholic identity is of a distinctly inclusive variety, welcoming a robust mix of Jewish and Muslim students as well as Latinx, Asian and LGBTQ.

Vincentians, followers of the 17th-century French priest Saint Vincent de Paul, founded the school as St. Vincent’s College in 1898. The name changed to DePaul in 1907, but its operative philosophy remains grounded in “teaching and service,” and it still lives and proudly articulates its founding principles more than 100 years later. Our info session leader, herself an impressive recent graduate, summed it up in three succinct bullet points: education, environment and ethos. It’s not often that a school’s defining characteristics are spelled out so quickly, clearly and with feeling.

Education at DePaul finds expression across a total of ten schools and 300 programs. The Lincoln Park campus is home to the colleges of education, arts & sciences, science & health, music and theater. The Loop is where you’ll find schools for business, law, communication, digital media and new learning (for adult students). Both campuses follow the Chicago-style quarterly system, which here includes a 10-day, freshman-year study-abroad opportunity during the six-week winter break.

DePaul considers the Chicago environment to be its classroom, providing opportunities for internships, co-op employment and research. Lincoln Park is where the vast majority of the students who live on campus reside, complete with a lake, a quad, shops, restaurants and nightlife. The Loop more of a downtown, big-city experience. Transit fare is included in tuition.

For all students, the notion of “teaching and service” is the classroom ethos, with studies framed by the questions: What must be done? Whom are you helping? What difference are you making? This holistic view of academics and action perhaps further informs DePaul’s five-year law school program, which students can begin as freshmen, and helps explain why undergraduates can apply to the university’s medical school while pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

One curiosity is the school’s logo. It’s just a little puzzling why a college named after a saint would have a sports team called the Blue Demons and a red-eyed, blue-hued mascot that appears quite the opposite of saintly. The story goes that the team originally was nicknamed the D-men, which morphed into demon and then a blue one because it was a school color, along with scarlet red, accounting for those eyes.

Our tour lasted only a few minutes because we had to return to our hotel to get our bags and then head to the airport. This made us sad, because our guides were a hoot. The one with purple hair said he told his mom he would apply to DePaul and DePaul alone the minute he set foot on campus. “It was just something about the vibe,” he said. The other, a former film production major who switched to economics confided: “I realized I was more interested in watching movies than making them.” With a wry smile and sideways glance, she quipped, ”So, if you know anyone who needs any film production credits …” Clearly, a budding capitalist.

With that, she pointed us to the nearby L station, a mercifully fast train ride downtown, and then yet another bumper-to-bumper car ride back to O’Hare.

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UVA Tour: It Takes an Academical Village

His name was invoked no less than four times during the first five minutes of our UVA tour. Thomas Jefferson is known for many things, and his legacy endures in manifold ways, yet it is astonishing that his vision of higher education is still standing so tall in Charlottesville after 200 years. Disenchanted by the limitations of his own alma mater, William & Mary, which had fallen into decline at the time, Jefferson sought both to expand the scope of study beyond ministry, law and medicine and tighten the relationship between student and teacher.

Ever the architect, Jefferson drew what he saw. It was a place where students lived downstairs from their teachers in a long quadrangle, set on a great lawn. At the head was not the steepled church common to most colleges at the time, but rather a great, domed library. At the foot, off in the distance, farmlands and a mountain range, suggesting an agrarian ideal as much as wide open, future possibilities. Jefferson termed his concept the “Academical Village” (apparently, he also liked to invent words). A few chosen students, as well as professors and even the university’s president, occupy it to this day. That the structure lacks indoor plumbing makes living there no less an honor.

It’s impossible not to feel Jefferson’s centuries-old influence while walking its “grounds,” which other schools would call a campus, but not UVA. It’s all about the grounds. Students enthusiastically buy into other curiosities of the founder’s chosen vocabulary, referring to themselves not as freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors, but as first-years, second-years, third-years and fourth-years. Jefferson thought this reinforced a commitment to lifelong learning.

Even more noteworthy is a tight embrace of Jefferson’s notion of self-governance. This was self-evident during our 90-minute tour of the grounds. Our guide declared at the outset that tours are conducted independent of the admissions office and that he was not paid or compensated in any way. The school had little to worry about, as his presentation was a nearly relentless rave review, which is in itself testament to the return on self-governance. The only lapse concerned the cafeteria food, which our guide compared to a warm glass of water on a hot day. “You’re going to drink it,” he said, “but you’re never going to crave it.” Clearly, our guide writes his own material.

He also confessed some sense of isolation during his first year or so, in part because the sheer size of the school made it challenging to find his peeps, but also that the academic rigor consumed his waking hours. Ironically, it seems axiomatic that the larger the school, the more alone you are, at least at first. Our outwardly extroverted guide said he made a conscious effort to remedy this simply by reaching out to others, and also joining clubs, of which there are some 600 at UVA.

The most profound evidence of Jefferson’s lasting legacy is in the academics itself. Jefferson wasn’t kidding about expanding the horizons of academic pursuit, originally offering an unprecedented total of eight schools: law, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, ancient languages, modern languages, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy — yet notably no divinity school. Today, it’s a total of eleven schools: arts & sciences, leadership/public policy, education, business, commerce, architecture, law, medicine, and nursing. UVA also runs the Wise College, a four-year liberal-arts school serving Appalachia.

If a single idea might pull these disparate disciplines into a coherent focus or philosophy, it would be Jefferson’s penchant for design, and the very modern idea of “design thinking,” or seeking solutions based on human need and behavior. It’s an approach that informed Jefferson’s design for the school itself, and is perhaps the best explanation for why it is one of America’s most renowned universities today.

If you visit, try to allow extra time for a self-tour.At the very least, do take the time to explore Jefferson’s famous serpentine walled gardens and step inside his breathtaking rotunda. While the guided tour was outstanding, it took us inside just one building: a quick lap around a very quiet library. Consistent with our guide’s one-star review of the food, we didn’t get to see a cafeteria, and if you’ve seen one dorm room you’ve pretty much seen them all. No great loss there. But to get a true sense of the school, it’s essential to see students in their natural habitat, at least at a student center or something like that. UVA really should open its doors a bit wider.

Consequently, our main impression is that most students walk the grounds alone, by themselves; we didn’t see many pairs, much less groups of students as is common on many other campuses.

While the University has grown considerably over the past two centuries, it is comforting that it has held fast, and proudly, to the principles on which it was founded, not unlike certain other products of Jefferson’s imagination. Yet, it must be noted that Jefferson was not the only U.S. president with a central role in realizing the UVA vision. James Madison, who was in office at the time, was on the school’s organizing board, along with former president James Monroe, who sold the land on which UVA was built. Chief Justice John Marshall was yet another distinguished UVA founding father. They all would certainly be amazed to see their university today, but just as surely would easily recognize the vibrant community of citizen-scholars they envisioned back in 1819.

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Traditional Studies are in ‘Major’ Trouble

Axios: “In 1869, at Harvard, Charles Eliot invented the college major as we know it — each student would be channeled into a specialized area of study, and move on to a stable, lifelong job.” However: “The seismic shifts created by frontier technologies are challenging a centuries-old model of higher education — one that is already under siege as the cost of college skyrockets, student debt balloons, and automation eliminates entire careers. Some university majors are aimed at jobs that might not exist any longer in the years and decades ahead. For those jobs that will exist, experts say, the uniquely human skill of problem-solving is essential, rather than a specific major. ‘The old model of studying one thing is giving way to a need for broadly trained workers,’ says Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.”

“Cal State Long Beach has partnered with the Institute for the Future to roll out ‘Beach 2030’ — a plan to ramp up interdisciplinary courses that reflect the fast-changing global landscape, and thus to ‘build future-ready students.’ Arizona State University has opened a College of Integrative Arts and Sciences that eliminates academic departments entirely and instead gives out degrees melding disciplines. Concordia University in Montreal has teamed up with five other Canadian universities focused on ‘skills training’ in addition to traditional degrees.”

The movement has its skeptics: Certain majors might need to be spruced up, but the idea of upending the model entirely is dangerous, says Matthew Mayhew, a professor at Ohio State. ‘There are still tons of people in college who are pre-med or accounting or chemistry majors that are getting jobs and directly applying what they learned in college,’ Mayhew says.” However, Mark Somerville of Olin College comments: “A smaller set of majors that are much more broadly defined is the direction we ought to be moving in. When it’s hard to predict what the jobs of the next 10 years will be — much less the next 50 years — acquiring the skills necessary to acquire skills is more important than the specifics of any given discipline.”

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What Does The Ivy League Really Want?

The Washington Post: “Because of the impressive SAT scores and high grades of students admitted to Ivy League institutions, many people incorrectly infer that superhuman academic performance is the key ingredient for admission. ‘Grades are still the most important factor in admissions,’ the founder of one consulting firm told USA Today. ‘Course rigor is also extremely important’ … In reality, academic strength is just one of several dimensions by which candidates are ranked, including extracurriculars, athletics and the enigmatic ‘personal’ ranking.”

“Savvy parents and applicants are well aware that the Ivy League values athletic talent. But it is often listed as just one ‘hook’ among many others, including legacy status, membership in a historically underrepresented minority group and socioeconomic disadvantage. Asked in 2012 about the magnitude of athletics, a former dean of admissions at Princeton said that ‘we do not emphasize one activity over the other; athletes as well as artistic endeavors are equally valued.’ She went on to specifically mention ‘musicians, dancers or actors’ as groups receiving recognition. But athletes are a special case and are given vastly more preference than other recognized categories.”

“A number of studies have shown that Ivy League graduates are vastly overrepresented in positions of corporate and political leadership: Almost a third of officers and directors in the corporate elite earned undergraduate degrees from elite schools. But overrepresentation is far from dominance. In a comprehensive 2017 study of ‘3,990 senior executives drawn from 15 sectors, including government,’ researchers at the University of California at Riverside found that barely 10 percent attended Ivy League colleges. Ivy League graduates were most represented in industries involving media, including publishing, journalism and the arts — but even there, they were a decided minority.”

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Some Colleges Let Students Be Teachers

Houston Chronicle: “Wearing a ‘Pursuit of Hoppiness’ T-shirt, Rebecca Lee begins a Wednesday night ‘Houston Microbreweries’ course at Rice University with a lesson on Indian Pale Ales … It isn’t your standard course at Rice. Not only because drinking beer is a major component, but because Lee and her co-teacher Alfonso Morera aren’t beer experts. They’re not even professors. Both are Rice undergraduates, and they’re teaching their peers. Rice’s ‘College Courses,’ which launched as a pilot around 2007, has become a fixture at the university. It allows students to teach one-credit classes on niche topics not offered by Rice lecturers and professors.”

“Princeton, Tufts University in Massachusetts, the University of California-Berkeley and other universities across the country offer similar teaching opportunities for undergraduate students … Mike Gustin, a professor of biosciences at Rice, proposed the courses in 2006 after learning that University of Virginia offered a similar program. Rice’s program has evolved over the past 12 years, with students quickly taking advantage of the opportunity to share, learn and congregate over their wide-ranging interests like knitting, counterculture movements in the 1960s, zombies and hip-hop.”

“Graded satisfactory and unsatisfactory, the courses can be taken or taught for credit up to three times, though Gustin said some students have gone on to teach for no credit at all … Students are required to take a six-week pedagogy course, or COLL 300, in which they learn the fundamentals of teaching, including the science behind successful, active learning, and how to frame their ideas in a scholarly way with the goal of providing students with a variety of perspectives and context … In the end, students craft a syllabus, prepare course content, submit a proposal to the dean of students’ office for approval and work with faculty mentors, who actively give them feedback.”

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How to Measure ‘Performance’ for Admissions?

Education Week: “Imagine a high school where students skip standardized end-of-course tests. Instead, to pass a class or graduate, they show off the results of big projects they’ve done, such as analyzing why the United States lost the Vietnam War or how geometric patterns can be used to produce solar energy … The trouble is that most college admissions officers already must review tall stacks of applications quickly. Few can carve out more time to read long descriptions of students’ work or watch videos of their presentations … how can college admissions officers get a quick and accurate sense of what students from performance-based schools have accomplished? A few projects around the country are trying to answer that question.”

“One of those initiatives, Reimagining College Access, wants to lower a key barrier to considering performance assessments in students’ admission applications: colleges’ software systems … most colleges use software systems designed to process students’ grades and test scores, but they can’t accept videos, research papers, and other projects. Reimagining College Access … works to create or find online platforms that can accept those kinds of student work. With the resources to spend more time on each student’s application, the most selective private colleges are the ones most likely to be able to examine more complex forms of student work … The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, allows students to upload ‘creative portfolios’ that capture research, visual and performing arts, and maker projects.”

“A project based in New England has designed model profiles to help schools that use performance assessments convey their work clearly to colleges. They’ve also designed model transcripts to reflect the nature of students’ work in performance-based schools … The new model transcript provides more detailed information than ordinary transcripts. It uses a 1-4 grading scale for students’ courses. But it also provides grades for crosscutting skills, like problem-solving, and for mastery of specific standards within each subject. In English, for instance, students’ proficiency is graded separately in reading comprehension, reading interpretation, writing range, writing research, discussion, and presentation.”

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Drexel’s New ‘Honors College’ Complex

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Joining a trend among universities across the country, Drexel University will develop a residential complex for its more than 1,500 Pennoni Honors College students, paying for part of the cost through a new $5 million donation, the school has announced … The money also will go toward a 10,800-square-foot, two-story glass and stone extension onto the building that will house three seminar rooms, study and social lounges, and honors college offices … So-called honors colleges, which have more stringent admission and academic requirements for students, have been proliferating around the country, along with programs to house those students.”

“The gift, which was announced Tuesday and is one of the larger ones the honors programs have received, will make Drexel ‘more appealing for students who might otherwise consider a liberal arts school,’ said Paula Marantz Cohen, dean of the honors college. ‘They can get the best of both worlds: the co-op and the interdisciplinary experience’ … The honors complex will create an ‘intellectual oasis’ where ‘students from all disciplines can gather to discuss ideas, take seminar-style, cross-disciplinary courses, and learn more about opportunities for research, fellowships and mentoring on campus,’ Marantz Cohen was quoted as saying in a news release.”

“Drexel’s Honors College houses five initiatives: the Honors Program, the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, the Center for Scholar Development and the Center for Marketing and Media. A new Center for Civil Discourse is also in the works and aims to bring together students, activists, and experts in analyzing today’s political climate.”

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Code Language: AP & SAT Re-think Knowledge

Thomas Friedman: “A few years ago, the leaders of the College Board, the folks who administer the SAT college entrance exam, asked themselves a radical question: Of all the skills and knowledge that we test young people for that we know are correlated with success in college and in life, which is the most important? Their answer: the ability to master ‘two codes’ — computer science and the U.S. Constitution. Since then they’ve been adapting the SATs and the College Board’s Advanced Placement program to inspire and measure knowledge of both.”

“So rather than have SAT exams and Advanced Placement courses based on things that you cram for and forget, they are shifting them, where they can, to promote the ‘two codes.’ In 2016, the College Board completely revamped its approach to A.P. computer science courses and exams … starting with the question: What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding … The new course debuted in 2016. Enrollment was the largest for a new course in the history of Advanced Placement, with just over 44,000 students nationwide.”

“The A.P. U.S. Government and Politics course also was reworked” based on the premise that “it was essential that every student entering college actually have command of the First Amendment, which enshrines five freedoms, not just freedom of speech” but also of “assembly, petition, press and religion … So the new A.P. government course is built on an in-depth look at 15 Supreme Court cases as well as nine foundational documents that every young American should know. It shows how the words of the Constitution give rise to the structures of our government … That said to students and teachers something the SAT had never dared say before: Some content is disproportionately more powerful and important, and if you prepare for it you will be rewarded on the SAT.”

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