RETENTION DRIVES CHANGES TO FRESHMEN EXPERIENCE

Gen-ed plan under review, faculty vote set for fall 2014

MEGAN RAPOSA

mlraposa11@ole.augie.edu

Augustana has been working on updating its general education plan for nearly six years, and this fall, the curriculum council hopes to have a finalized plan put to faculty vote.

The area that faces the greatest change in both credit requirements and overall curriculum is that of the first year experience.

“National research bears out that a really strong, meaningful first year experience is good for freshmen to sophomore retention,” college president Rob Oliver said.

Compared to the current Augustana Plan, which was implemented in 1986, the proposed plan fits core requirements into the acronym “COMPASS,” with each letter representing a different education outcome. The plan will also respond to the faculty vote in fall 2013 that changed the graduation credit requirement from 130 credits to 124.

According to academic dean Susan Hasseler, one of the primary changes between the old plan and the new is a “framework that is more comprehensible to students and articulates our mission more clearly.”

“The primary goals are certainly to provide students with a balanced experience with the liberal arts,” curriculum council chair and history professor Margaret Preston said.

While work on the general education plan began years ago, last fall the college received a $50,000 grant from the Council of Independent Colleges to support the work of establishing a first-year experience. These funds have been used to support a committee designated to look specifically at the first-year experience.

“[COMPASS] is refocusing our energies on the front end of the college experience,” chair of the first-year experience committee Joel Johnson said.

While it is unclear what exactly the new first year experience will look like, current learning objectives include: analytical reasoning, critical and creative thinking, and effective communication. Some faculty members have expressed concern regarding which classes might be absorbed into a first-year seminar.

“What I fear is the dropping of English 110 and communication 110,” English professor Sandra Looney said.

“I respectfully disagree with those who think this is an advance, and I will stand very strongly for the retention of first-year composition and first-year communication,” Looney said. “I feel I am standing for the students.”

Freshman Katie Romano expressed a different set of concerns regarding the COMPASS plan.

“As interesting as a liberal arts system looks on paper, required classes are required classes and will likely be met with the same disdain,” she said.

For Johnson, the changes to the first-year curriculum intend to create an experience that’s “academically more robust.”

“There’s ample evidence to show that [first-year experience] is quite valuable not just for recruiting and retaining students, but for giving them good initial preparation for their studies in college,” he said.

According to Hasseler, implementation of the new plan will begin in fall 2015 if the faculty votes to adopt the plan this coming fall.