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 For non-science majors, Introduction to Biology has been replaced by Disease and Discrimination, a course that crosses disciplines to explore the inequalities in access to health care.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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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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Penn Tour: Be What You Seem, Really

Yes, it exhibits everything one would expect at an “ivy league” school: a grand, bustling green campus, suitably majestic and imposing stone buildings, energetic students with laptops and books open, doing their level best to enjoy a relatively warm, early spring day. At a glance, the University of Pennsylvania, or plain old “Penn,” would be right out of central casting if there were such a thing for elite institutions of higher education. We do tend to think of the “ivy league” as a “brand” of extravagantly selective colleges that share a certain, albeit inscrutable, set of attributes.

That may be true only up to a point, as the trappings of elite schools are hardly exclusive to those belonging to this one particular, rarified athletic conference. What’s more, each of these eight academies has its own story to tell, in a voice and with a personality that sets it apart from the others. At Penn, that story arguably originates with its founder, Ben Franklin, who said: “What you seem to be, be really.” What that translates into today is evident in an academic approach that values the sometimes unlikely points of connection between ostensibly unrelated areas of interest, or as the locals shorthand it, “Penn Integrates Knowledge.”

This distinctively Penn storyline quickly came clear during an outstanding information session featuring short stories of student journeys, and how various undergrads allowed their curiosities, and the relationships between those interests, to lead the way to their academic pursuits. For example, Greg’s love of skiing led to a fascination with climate change. He then linked his environmental concerns to his academic focus on mechanical engineering, and how that knowledge might be applied to climate-related challenges.

Penn encourages this type of free-range exploration by urging students to think about what they love before even considering potential majors, and to consider a more holistic approach to studies within the context of their ultimate goals. They are then free to follow their bliss across the full spectrum of Penn’s liberal arts, engineering, and business schools, blowing up the silos between traditional majors. Our tour guide, whose studies span neuroscience, computer science, urban planning and Spanish confirmed that Penn’s omnivorous educational philosophy is more than just talk.

Building on all the above, the admissions officer who led our information session emphasized the importance of the “What do you want to study at Penn?” question on the application. She said that, too often, applicants answer the question generically, as if they simply cut and pasted the same response for every school (because that’s actually what they did). Doing so is almost a sure-fire way to end up in the “R” pile, even if your grades, rigor and board scores are perfect.

Conversely, if one takes the time to study what each and every school has to offer, and explain how that aligns with one’s goals and aspirations, it can be your ticket in. While Penn does not factor “demonstrated interest” into its decisions because it does not want to disadvantage those who cannot travel to Philadelphia, it does give points to those who show that they have taken the time to understand why Penn is a good fit. Ironically, the best — and maybe only — way to do this is to visit the school. It is not easy to glean “Penn Integrates Knowledge” from the school’s website; as central as this story is to Penn’s existence it is buried under layers of online navigation menus. We certainly wouldn’t have fully appreciated its importance short of spending a half a day on campus, seeing and hearing it for ourselves. Wherever you plan to apply, we encourage you to do the same, as it could make make all the difference.

While it’s true that most students will not have the opportunity to attend Penn or another of the “ivy league” schools, the same principles can be applied elsewhere. To that end, high school students might take a more expansive view of their academic interests right now, and think about how to substantiate them during their high school careers, regardless of where they plan to apply. Colleges do tend to favor those who show depth and consistency, but in today’s world that can mean mixing and matching a range of interests and influences to come up with fresh ideas and new solutions.

It’s about more than just standing out; it’s about being what you seem to be, really.

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St. Olaf College: A Holistic Health Curriculum

St. Olaf Magazine: “From 2011 to 2016, 75 percent of St. Olaf students who applied to medical school with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.60 were accepted, compared to the overall national average acceptance rate of 47 percent among students with comparable grade point averages during the same time period … Students interested in the health professions earn majors across the liberal arts, including science and non-science disciplines. Those who are considering medical school can pursue pre-med (or pre-health) studies in tandem with their major.”

“Among those who do head to medical school, the Association of American Medical Colleges notes that, nationally, only 51 percent of medical school enrollees in 2012 majored in biological sciences. The remaining matriculants majored in the humanities, mathematics or statistics, the physical sciences, the social sciences, or specialized health sciences … St. Olaf’s philosophy is to help students think past the title of ‘doctor’ to examine how they can best use their skills to improve the lives of others.”

“While nursing students earn a bachelor of arts degree in nursing, they also partake of St. Olaf’s liberal arts curriculum by completing the general graduation requirements, such as courses in a foreign language, oral and written communication, and abstract and quantitative reasoning …pre-health students can also study abroad … Many choose St. Olaf’s service learning–focused Peruvian Medical Experience, during which students assist alumni health professionals who are serving the dental and medical needs of Andean communities in and around Cusco, Peru.”

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Planetarium is ‘High Point’ at HPU

Greensboro: At High Point University, “The Wanek School of Undergraduate Sciences is more than 70 percent complete and on schedule to open in August. Not only will this four-story building serve as the new home for the university’s growing undergraduate programs in biology, chemistry and physics, the $65 million facility will also complement the university’s graduate-level offerings in pharmacy and the health sciences.”

“The main lobby of the new science building is nearly 50 feet high, topped by a cupola. A hallway leads into the building past big windows that show off two labs — microbiology on the left, physics on the right. At the end of the hallway is one of the building’s key features: a planetarium with 125 stadium-style seats and an overhead dome that’s 50 feet in diameter. HPU students will use the planetarium for earth studies, astronomy and other science courses. It’ll also be the site of one of the few planetarium operations courses in the country, said Brad Barlow, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy.”

“The science building will have classrooms, faculty offices and 30 labs, including ones for animal, insect and cadaver research. It also will have a makerspace so students can work on their own projects outside of class. Next door to the Wanek building, HPU will erect a 15,000-square-foot conservatory that will house a new greenhouse for botany research and to grow the trees, shrubs and flowers that are planted throughout campus.”

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Major Dilemma: What to Study at College?

US News: “College majors can be conventional, such as business, or off the beaten path. California State University—Fresno, for example, offers majors in viticulture and enology through its agriculture program, where students learn about grape cultivation, wine production and the industry … The most popular college majors, based on National Center for Education Statistics data on degrees conferred in 2014-15, were ‘in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000)’.”

“Another field experts expect to grow is unmanned aerial systems, often referred to as drones … uses for drones include agriculture, real estate, medicine, security and more. Another in-demand major at the University of North Dakota is petroleum engineering, which fetches the highest median earnings among college majors, coming in at $136,000 annually, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.”

“To help students narrow down their college major options, some schools offer online quizzes. Loyola University Chicago has a 35 question online quiz to help students learn more about potential majors … Marquette offers a similar quiz, but instead of suggesting individual majors, it groups students into categories such as communicator, entrepreneur, helper, problem-solver and thinker. When a student completes the college major quiz, suggested disciplines are matched to their results.”

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How to Study for Jobs of the Future?

NPR: “Eighty-five percent of the jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 don’t exist yet, the Institute for the Future has predicted. That might seem like a high number to reach in only 12 years. But think about the now-mainstream careers that did not exist just a handful of years ago: drone operator, social media manager, app developer and cloud computing engineer, among others … Even if that 85 percent is ultimately smaller, the number begs an important question about how the workforce is preparing for the future, starting in the classroom. What role should colleges and universities play in preparing students for a workplace that is constantly changing?”

“At the University of Utah, the new Degree Plus program seeks to fill the job skills gap. It offers eight-week courses intended as an add-on to a student’s main degree. The courses include data analysis, web design and digital marketing, all taught by industry professionals … The model is similar to ‘badge’ programs, which aim to give students a certificate showing they know a skill that employers might find useful.”

“The University of California, Berkeley, is another school that is trying to foster student-driven pursuits, which may not have a traditional, professional outlet. Students there can design their own courses, such as ‘Blockchain Fundamentals’ and ‘Impact of AI,’ a class that explores ‘various economic, social, and ethical challenges facing AI’ … In addition to allowing students to study subjects not taught in a standard university class, the DeCal, short for Democratic Education at Cal, program is designed to foster creativity–a skill that could be valuable in any job market.”

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MIT Launches Billion-Dollar AI Intitiative

The Verge: “MIT has announced a $1 billion initiative to … establish a new college of computing to train the next generation of machine learning mavens.Importantly, the college isn’t just about training AI skills. Instead, it will focus on what MIT president L. Rafael Reif calls ‘the bilinguals of the future.’ By that, he means students in fields like biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, and linguistics who also know how to apply machine learning to these disciplines.”

“MIT is also angling the college as an ethically minded enterprise; one of its stated aims is to research ‘ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.’ It’s a frequent criticism of contemporary AI efforts that researchers sometimes ignore the history and lessons of the fields they are trying to ‘disrupt’.”

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Which Majors Pay Off Biggest?

CBS: “A student’s major as well as their college can make a significant impact on their career earnings, according to a new study from compensation site PayScale … Not surprisingly, the top-earning majors are squarely in the STEM-related fields, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students who attend top-ranked schools like Ivy League colleges or those known for particular expertise, such as the U.S. Naval Academy, also tend to earn more than those who matriculate from middle-of-the-pack colleges.”

“But is it important to attend an elite or expensive college? Not necessarily, said Lydia Frank, vice president of content strategy at PayScale. For instance, a student who wants to study engineering — already a top-paying field — may not be hampered in her career if she attends a lower-ranked college because engineering skills are in strong demand.”

“As for the old-fashioned liberal arts degree, Frank said there’s still demand for the types of skills that students learn in such majors. ‘It’s about critical thinking and communication skills,’ she said. ‘When we ask employers about skills that are lacking in new college grads … what we hear from employers is often the new hires right out of college are lacking things that you think everyone in college should graduate with, which are communication skills and critical thinking’.”

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Goucher Announces ‘Major’ Cutbacks

Baltimore Sun: “Math majors at Goucher College will soon be a thing of the past. Gone, too, will be physics majors, music majors and students in a range of subjects the school is eliminating from its offerings as part of a cost-cutting ‘academic revitalization’ … The liberal arts school in Towson joins a growing number of institutions removing majors such as math and physics to save money. Seven Texas universities began eliminating their physics programs in 2010. The University of the District of Columbia cut 17 degree programs, including physics, five years ago.”

“Liberal arts colleges, in particular, have faced closures and cutbacks … Still, the announcement drew outrage from alumni who majored in the subjects to be eliminated … Other majors to be cut include Russian studies, studio art, theater, religion, elementary education and special education. Minors to be phased out include book studies, German and Judaic studies.”

“At least one new major will be offered, in visual and material culture. Freshmen signed up for the 2018-19 academic year will still be able to enroll in the programs to be eliminated, and courses in math, physics and other subjects will still be offered.”

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