Follow up: Forum sheds light on proposed core curriculum changes

March 21st, 2013

One of the most fundamental parts of a JCU education – the core curriculum – could undergo some significant changes in the near future. An open forum was held last Tuesday, March 12 to discuss plans for proposed changes to the core. Gwendolyn Compton-Engle, director of the core curriculum, answered questions and explained exactly what the proposal to change the core consists of.

The new core would apply to students entering JCU in the fall of 2015, but the proposal has not yet been approved by the faculty, and there is no guarantee if it will be accepted or rejected. Compton-Engle noted that “everything is hypothetical” at this point; however, she did say that the committee working on the core and JCU should have a definite answer within the next couple of months.

She explained that the process to change the core started a few years ago, and the Curriculum Working Group started work in January of 2011. They looked at the cores of other institutions and other Jesuit schools and also sought input from the faculty and the Student Union.

Sophomore Brianna Lazarchik, Student Union’s vice president for communications, was the chair of the Committee on Academics last year, and she and her committee worked with Compton-Engle to create the academic survey that went out to all students in April of 2012.

Lazarchik said the survey covered academic advising, First Year Seminar and the core curriculum. She said, “Because the goals of our committee were related to such large issues, we felt that a survey of the entire student body was the most effective way to be a voice for the students.”

The results of the survey revealed that while the majority of students thought that the current version of the core was effective, it needed changes. There was an overwhelming response by the student body to change the Division V requirements, especially in regards to having fewer philosophy courses required.

Compton-Engle explained, “The survey conducted by the Student Union last spring really helped to confirm for us that many of the issues that our committee was discussing – for example, the addition of a creative arts component or the desire for greater flexibility in the core – are also of concern to students.”

After gathering all of the data, the Curriculum Working Group gave a report in October 2012 that recommended significant changes to the core, more specifically, reducing the credit hours required to graduate from 128 to 120.

The more intricate changes to the curriculum would be: a reduced core, from 57 credit hours to 40-49 hours; a different structure – the divisions would be eliminated and they would be renamed “foundational competencies,” encouraging students to finish them early in their college career; integrating the core more effectively into specific majors; no lab class requirement; changes to the foreign language requirements; reducing the number of philosophy courses from three to two; no First Year Seminar; Speech Communication (CO 100) will become a three-credit course; finally, “linked courses” would be added.

These linked courses would be two classes in the same subject matter but grounded in different departments. There will be pre-set pairs of courses, including some in the “Exploring the Natural World” and the “Examining the Human Experience” sections. Students would be required to take a pair of linked courses from each of these sections. This is still a work in progress, and nothing has been decided with the way the linked classes are going to work.

The linked courses will be taking the place of the FYS courses, Compton-Engle explained. “In the proposed new curriculum we are retaining that focus on interdisciplinary learning, but moving it to a later point in the student’s college career, after she or he has further developed some essential skill,” she said. “For faculty, the linked courses offer an advantage over FYS because they allow faculty members to teach in their own departments and areas of specialization.”

The language requirements are going to change in the proposed new core as well. For example, if a student places into a 300-level course from their language test before entering JCU, they place out of the language requirement. If a student places into a 200-level course, they will only have to take one language course, a 201 course. Finally, if a student places into a 100-level course, they will have to take three courses if they are continuing their language from high school or two classes if it is a different language.

Compton-Engle noted that this new core would make it easier for students to graduate in four years – they will not have to take summer classes, it will be easier to double major or add a minor and easier to study abroad. Compton-Engle also said that the way students are advised will have to change. In addition, they want to change the “get it all over by sophomore year” mentality and encourage students to spread out the core.

Some concern was raised that the current core allows undecided majors to find their way because of the amount of credits required. Compton-Engle said that while the proposed core does have fewer credits, it still covers the different disciplines. Additionally, the fewer credits will allow students to change their mind easily and make their schedules more flexible.

While changes to the core curriculum are still being discussed and have yet to be voted on by the faculty, Compton-Engle said she is hopeful that there will be a positive reaction and acceptance of the proposal: “Major curricular change is challenging and often controversial, not just at John Carroll, but at any institution that attempts it. Faculty members care deeply about the subjects they teach, and there can be entrenched interests at stake,” she said. “But I think the proposal offers an exciting, forward-looking vision of Jesuit education that can revitalize not just the student experience, but the faculty experience as well.”

Lazarchik said, “I think, overall, the reduced size of the core curriculum will make a huge difference to students. It will give them more time to intuitively explore areas of interest as well as eliminate some stress, which more ambitious students sometimes feel about graduating early.”