Monthly Archives

August 2017

Anatomy of a College Curriculum: The Core Curriculum

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In most colleges, degree requirements (the course progression leading to a degree) follow a set pattern or design. In this blog series, I am going to dive into the anatomy of college curriculum and then we will look at how students can best maximize their outcomes at any college.

With only a few exceptions, Ohio’s colleges and universities have all migrated to a semester system. So, the academic year is broken into a fall semester and a spring semester, each comprising around 16-17 weeks. In a typical semester, students would take 15 credit hours (around 5 classes) with 120 credit hours required for completion of the degree. Thus a degree can be completed in approximately 4 years not including summers. Most individual courses award 3-credit hours, with some lab and other extended courses awarding 4-5 credit hours.

First, let’s look at the structural components of a college degree. They are as follows:

  1. Core Curriculum (approximately 1/3 of total credit hours)
  2. Major Courses (1/3 to 2/3 of total credit hours)
  3. Free Electives (0 to 1/3 of total credit hours)

Over the next few blog entries, we will look more closely at each structural component of a college degree. Let’s start with the Core Curriculum.

The Core Curriculum

“Core” or “General Education” Requirements comprise approximately 1/3 of a student’s total credit hours but this may vary by college. The goal of the core curriculum is to support the student’s intellectual growth as an “educated” person and citizen as well as to align the student with the core values and heritage of the specific college. Courses in the core curriculum are typically found in the Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Social Sciences – these are the fundamental disciplines, many dating back to Roman and Greek times (e.g. languages, philosophy, theology, literature, biology, etc.). Beyond content, they also focus on developing a student’s writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills.

Within each college, the Core Curriculum is a political enterprise as its content determines jobs, resource allocation, and the actualization of values within the college. For example, most Catholic colleges require two courses in Philosophy and two courses in Theology due to their unique mission as a Catholic college, whereas a public university may require no Theology and Philosophy would only be an elective among many other Humanities offerings. Few families look closely at the Core Curriculum as they consider colleges, choosing instead to focus only on major offerings. At CBA, we believe it is important to take a look at the Core as well. A large required Core Curriculum reduces free electives and may limit the size of professional degree offerings (e.g. Engineering, Business, Nursing, Social Work, Education, etc.).

The Core Curriculum is typically organized into categories. So, students may be required to take one course in the natural sciences, two courses in the humanities, one physical education course, one course in history, one course in Math, two courses in the social sciences, etc. Within each category the student may be able to choose from many options. Some of those options may be able to simultaneously satisfy a major requirement. For example, an Engineering major may be required to take Calculus in his or her first semester. This course would typically satisfy both the Core Math requirement as well as an Engineering major requirement. Students should work to maximize these “double dip” opportunities as each time they select a Core course that simultaneously satisfies a major requirement, they open up an additional Free Elective that can later be used to pick up a Minor or Certificate.

Is your head hurting yet? I think that is enough on the Core Curriculum. Next time, we will look at the courses required by the Major area of study.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

 

Academic advice from a college professor

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This fall our son, Keenan, is off to college at the University of Akron. He is our youngest and the last to leave our family home. As many of you have experienced, this is a bittersweet time and one that forces some level of reflection on the past and consideration for the future. As an ex-college professor, I decided to take pen in hand and capture a few things that I wish I had known and practiced as a college student – things that would have made me more academically successful, less stressed, and happier. A gift to my son of sorts, I plan to pass on my ramblings on our way to college. I have been around college students most of my adult life, so I know the chances of him adopting my recommendations are slim, but maybe he will consider just a few. If you would like a copy of my 2-page set of academic coaching points, just e-mail me at DrJay@collegeboundadvantage and I will send you a copy. What follows first, are a few principles that I think are relevant to the discussion and then a few of the “Academic Success Habits” I find most compelling.

Principles

I believe academic success is born out of a set of habits. Habits allow certain behaviors to operate unconsciously and consistently. Think about when you learned to drive a car. Remember what it was like at first? How is it different now? Students can be intentional about developing habits that will support (versus diminish) their prospects for success. The Academic Success Habits that will follow can be practiced and habitualized.

Not all students self-advocate naturally. They have to develop the ability to ask for what they need, approach authority figures for help, and reach out for support when needed. Parents can help students with this by visiting faculty, academic support services, Math Labs, Writing Centers, etc. and asking (subtely in front of their student), how a student could access their services or support if needed and how they can help. They will remember.

A Few Habits for you to Consider Developing

Identify a place or two on campus to study and go there every day. Build study into your calendar.

Read the syllabus for each class when received and place all due dates of assignments/exams into your calendar so you will always have a central reference.

Work on each class a short time each day. This will keep everything fresh, allow for pacing of work, and prevent the loss of details and content.

The No-Brainers: Attend class and complete and turn-in homework assignments (including reading) on time. Homework is designed to help you learn, so make sure you understand it. If you read or skim chapters in advance, faculty lectures will make better sense and will be retained much more easily.

If you are struggling with a class, get help early. Talk to your faculty, attend Math or Writing Lab sessions, ask the Academic Services office for Peer Tutoring, or enlist the help of  a friend who was successful in the class.

If you are cratering in a class and don’t believe you can course correct, drop the class with a “W” before the final drop date (usually about 6-7 weeks into the semester). A “W” will appear on your transcript, but will not impact your GPA and you can re-take the course later. Even if you earn an “F” in a class, the course can be retaken at the same college and the new grade will replace the prior “F” for GPA calculation purposes, although the “F” will remain on your transcript. One caveat – dropping classes may impact financial aid, so check in with your financial aid representative as you consider a drop. Also some policies may differ between colleges.

Develop a strategy for each type of class. A successful strategy for a Math class is different from a strategy for a content (memory) class or a writing class. Team Projects also require that you develop a strategy. E-mail me for my entire document that offers ideas for these strategies.

Best wishes this fall. As the air cools and the leaves change color, I will be hoping that Keenan is finding success and joy in the college environment that I have loved most of my life. It is a blessing, but one that needs to be navigated carefully to fully enjoy the rewards it offers. It is also a transition that can be difficult to manage and overwhelming at times.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

How to help your student succeed in college: The path to identifying a major

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In my last blog we looked at how carefully designed, immersive, co-curricular experiences can build a strong support system around students that help them succeed. Now we will shift to the academic side of the house and consider how a student’s engagement with their major area of study can also elevate motivation and improve success.

Over the last 20 years, I have served as the academic advisor for over 400 college students. Many of these students worked with me for their entire four-year college career. Over those years I have been able to compile and test some key advising principles that today inform our processes at College Bound Advantage.

First, I have come to appreciate the importance of helping students identify and commit to a major aligned with their interests, strengths, and aspirations as soon as possible. Over the years, I developed a simple process for my “undecided” advisees that begins with exploring the student’s interests, favorite high school courses, academic performance and courses taken to date, strengths, and current thinking about career in order to create a “Map” of potential majors, minors, and careers to explore. We then identify courses and other experiences that can help them discern between options. Families not working with us might consider suggesting that their student request these services from their campus Career Center.

The commonly accepted notion that encourages students to begin college as completely “undecided” and wander around hoping that illumination will follow is, in my opinion, problematic or at least incomplete. In my experience, students find it hard to extract meaning and motivation from such aimless academic drifting and are much better served with a clear plan to explore options aligned with their interests and strengths. Additionally, most students don’t understand major options and need them clearly defined, translated into courses and careers, differentiated from other similar options and organized into a plan of exploration that they can get excited about.

Second, once exploration unfolds and the student identifies a major that they are excited about, another level of planning and exploration becomes possible. It is at this point that students can be encouraged to consider joining student or professional organizations aligned with their major; explore aligned study abroad opportunities; consider internships, coops, or service opportunities related to their major, or join related residential learning communities. These activities clarify choices, deepen commitment, create career pathways, and connect students to others with similar interests.

It has been my experience that once students ascribe meaning and purpose to their academic program, they enjoy increased motivation, improved retention, and strengthen their chances of graduation and success beyond college. The all-to-common alternative is characterized by uncertainty, periodic major changes, lack of motivation, anxiety about the future, reduced retention rates, and employment challenges following graduation.

Of course, even better than beginning this process in college is getting a head start while in high school. High school courses, dual enrollment options, career projects, and college visits can be used to help students accelerate this process and enter college much closer to a potential great-fit major and all the motivating and success-enhancing benefits that go along with it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once a student has found a major to get excited about and built their involvements, activities, internships, and career aspirations around it, they learn how powerful the simultaneous alignment of all these factors can be. They also learn that they can do it over and over throughout their life as they, and the world, change. They become more confident, capable of informed risk taking, and motivated. They are also much less likely to settle for careers and involvements that don’t enrich them because they know they can orchestrate change and they know what it feels like to be working toward something they are excited about.

So, if we can coach our students to get involved in one or more immersive co-curricular experiences that will help them solidify a support network and better identify with their college while supporting their journey to find a major that is aligned with their strengths, interests, and capabilities, then…we can sit back and enjoy watching them grow into responsible, happy, healthy adults. Now what’s wrong with that!

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

How to help your student succeed in college: Beyond Frog Camp

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In my last blog, we looked at the Frog Camp Experience at Texas Christian University (TCU). The program is designed to help students learn about TCU while deeply connecting with each other, several student leaders, and a member of the faculty or staff. The result is a substantial bump in first to second year retention and clear anecdotal evidence that students are motivated to succeed when they are intentionally connected to their college and a small, cohesive group of others.

Unfortunately, while programs like Frog Camp are strong in Texas (e.g. Fish Camp at Texas A&M, Mustang Corral at SMU, etc.) they have not migrated to Ohio colleges with the sole exception of “Camp Blue” at the University of Dayton. So, what are the options for students in their first year at other Ohio colleges?

First, let’s define the aspects of Frog Camp that provide the magic. In order for these benefits to accrue to students, the program or organization should provide the following: (1) an intentional and ongoing engagement with a small group of peer students, student leaders, and at least one member of the faculty or staff; (2) a set of designed, shared experiences that foster the development of authentic relationships and group cohesion; and (3) an experience that will help students identify with the college through its history, activities, and traditions. The result is that each student will have a strong, diverse, and capable support group and a deep identification with the college.

So, what are the options? If you and your student attended your college’s orientation, you had a first hand opportunity to observe a group of students who have been through such an experience – your orientation student advisors. They were housed together, trained together, educated on all aspects of their college, connected to faculty and staff, and provided opportunities to serve their community – they have the magic. But what about the new student orientees? Unfortunately just attending orientation does not satisfy the above criteria so, while it may have been a helpful experience, it was not a “Frog Camp.”

Well, enough of that. Let’s cut to the chase. Here are some ideas of the types of experiences I am talking about:

  1. Residential Learning Communities (see prior blog on this topic)
  2. Residential Advisors (RAs) – these residence hall advisors are trained and supported just like our orientation advisors
  3. Social Fraternities and Sororities
  4. Immersive leadership development programs that meet the criteria
  5. Optional pre-college trips, excursions, service projects, etc. that satisfy the criteria. Some colleges offer backpacking trips or assign groups to Habitat for Humanity Homes, or offer other travels together.
  6. Immersive Study Abroad trips that are designed in such a way as to meet the criteria
  7. Athletic teams (varsity or club sport) that meet the criteria. Some coaches who intentionally tend to culture can make these exceptional experiences…others…not so much. Intramural sports do not, in and of themselves, satisfy the criteria.
  8. Any student organization in which the student takes on a sigificant leadership role. Membership and involvement helps, but doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria.

So, encourage (and coach) your student to identify and engage possible “Frog Camp” experiences at their college. You will know when your student has completed a “Frog Camp Experience.” They will be happy, engaged, connected, empowered, motivated…..and wouldn’t dream of leaving until they walk across the stage with their friends and accept a diploma from the college they love.

Next time, we will look at the academic side of the house and how an equally powerful motivating force can emerge there.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

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