New general education plan nearing faculty vote




Plans for a new general education plan are in their final stages as faculty prepares to vote on the issue at its November meeting.

Its passing would change the structure of both general education requirements and the first year experience, according to Richard Bowman, chair of the curriculum council.

The proposed plan, called COMPASS, has several years of research behind it. Scott Fish, French professor and member of the curriculum council, said a committee met every week for three years with the objective of providing an “education of enduring worth.”

However, with the November faculty meeting in sight, Fish says certain aspects of COMPASS are still being “tweaked, massaged and perfected” in faculty feedback sessions.

“There is no guidebook saying, ‘Here is how to change your gen-ed plan’,” Fish said. “It’s trial by fire.”

Each letter of COMPASS stands for an education component; for example, “C” stands for “Critical Conversation” and “M” for  “Mathematical Reasoning.” Fish said current and new classes would need to fit within one of these components and meet certain requirements of the college.

One of the major areas of revision under COMPASS is the first-year seminar (FYS). Currently, freshmen are required to take a one-credit course in their first semester that introduces them to the college experience.

Under COMPASS, first-year students would be required to take a seminar during their first two semesters at Augustana, according to government professor and chair of the first-year experience committee Joel Johnson.

This change pushes FYS from one credit to eight credits, a difference that affects several areas of the general education plan. One way to make room for the larger FYS was the elimination of a Capstone class, which leaves faculty resources available “to work more toward the front end of the curriculum,” Johnson said.

Additionally, the general education requirements for some departments including English and communication studies will be restructured to be included in FYS rather than as separate requirements. Johnson said these areas would be transformed and professors currently teaching in those areas would be involved in teaching FYS.

English department chair Patrick Hicks said he’s excited about the possibility of the courses he’ll be able to teach in FYS, but the English and journalism department would prefer that English 110 be left as a standalone course for students who do not test out of it.

“The department feels that students are probably better served with a 100-level course devoted solely to the craft of writing, grammar and punctuation,” Hicks said.

Johnson said the first semester of FYS focuses heavily on writing, oral communication and critical reasoning. By the end of the first semester, students will have done several writing assignments as well as giving at least two major speeches. The second semester shifts the focus to an emphasis on ethical reasoning.

Fish said he thinks this extended experience would be beneficial to both the students and the college as a whole. He says the committee’s research showed students engaged in a full year of orientation demonstrate more confidence in their skills, while retention rates from freshman to sophomore year increased.

According to Johnson, the topics for the classes in both semesters are up to the professors to choose.

“It gives faculty a lot of flexibility to design courses that are in line with their own passion and interest,” he said. “[This] is a good way of getting students also inspired to learn and to figure out how this whole academic life works.”

The proposed FYS, along with COMPASS as a whole, aligns well with the college’s new strategic plan as well, according to senior vice president for academic affairs Susan Hasseler.

“I think it’s going to help us make it clear to prospective students, current students and to people in the community this quite amazing distinctive we have of our broad-based liberal arts experience,” she said.

In addition to clarifying requirements, COMPASS includes a built-in review process. A COMPASS committee has been designated to re-evaluate the plan at least every five years, according to Hasseler.

Junior Kat Van Gerpen, an ASA senator who represents the student body to the curriculum council, said she believes the new plan will also make Augustana more attractive to prospective students.

“Hopefully it is more memorable and appealing to them as they search for the institution that best fits their needs,” Van Gerpen said.

Bowman says the Augustana Plan, which was implemented in the mid-80s, has “the educational philosophies of a previous generation.” He cites this gap as the main reason for the plan’s reconfiguration.

In addition to being outdated, Fish says it is hard to understand.

“We get that we think liberal arts is important. That’s great,” Fish said. “But how do we explain it to incoming students?”

Van Gerpen agreed.

“The areas and numbers are generic and meaningless, making it hard to remember which classes fit into what areas,” Van Gerpen said.

If the plan passes, it is unknown when it will go into effect. Bowman said time will be needed to figure out where each general education class fits into COMPASS’ categories, as well as to prepare faculty to teach new student seminars.

Fish said this process would only take a year “in a perfect world,” while Bowman estimated about a year and half.

COMPASS’ future is unclear if it fails to pass in November. Possibilities range from continuing to alter it until the faculty approves it to the committee starting completely over, according to Fish.

Even if this is the case, he said the process up to this point will not have been a waste.

“Whether the faculty passes COMPASS or whether they don’t, looking at the package is a good thing to do,” Fish said.

When asked if she thinks the proposed plan would pass if faculty voted today, Hasseler said she hopes so.

“Faculty have been very involved in constructing [COMPASS], so I hope a majority of the faculty actually believe that this is a plan that will really serve the students well,” Hasseler said.