Yeah, it's absolutely an elitist kind of institution that I'm imagining. As I told the faculty at College of the Atlantic, you're a "long tail" institution: there is only a small number of students who ought to be there, and the real challenge is to find them and persuade them.Now, I think this was an entirely fair response, and I agree that it's valuable to think about what could carry over to a broader range of institutions. Indeed, for whatever reason, I'm more interested, in many ways, in thinking about innovation from within strict constraints than I am in imagining innovation in a more free, or "long tail," setting. So what I've been thinking about is just this: how would changing the structure of university curricula work from the vantage point of a regional, comprehensive, non-selective university work? If I'm at No-name, Mid-tier State (some version of the moniker that Dean Dad often applies to my type of institution), how might I imagine "innovation" in higher education?
It's worth thinking about what could carry over to a wide variety of institutions, though. In some respects, that just takes us back to the kind of constructivist v. behavioralist arguments about pedagogy. Or maybe the question is, "If a CC or regional comprehensive didn't have severe resource limitations, what would it do educationally that its students might be prepared to benefit from?" I don't think, for example, that large lecture classes with typical remember-and-repeat pedagogy benefit most students, regardless of their preparation.
Now, there are two primary things that I have been thinking about in terms of such a project. One, I've been thinking about the mission of my particular institution. This mission, basically, includes the following:
- We educate the people of our region toward a goal of them being more employable.
- One of our main goals is bettering the community of which our university is a part.
- We value educating the "whole person" - we are not just job training.
So, the short version of all of that is, how in god's name can we imagine a new kind of higher education from the vantage point of a regional university, with very low admissions standards, that mainly caters to first generation college students, and that has absolutely no donations coming in from alumni/ae? Very little grant money (for we have a 4/4 load)? Very little state support (for the most money goes to the flagship)?
These are the questions that I've been considering. And the only answer at which I arrive has to do with the wholesale revision of general education requirements.
Now, before I get into what I'm thinking, let's talk about why this will never work. This will never work because how general ed. requirements work at most universities is that they expand rather than contract. The idea is that there are categories that students must fill in, and then courses get plugged in under the categories that will fulfill them. The thing is, because this is how it works, faculty don't have a huge investment in trimming back. General ed. requirements become the battleground in which we fight for the centrality of our disciplines. Moreover, they become the battleground in which individual faculty fight for course enrollments. If a department's value lies in its ability to generate FTE hours, then gen. ed. is essential in establishing a department's power and a discipline's value. At my institution, FTE is tied to a department's funding and in my case directly to travel funding for faculty. It's also tied directly to knowing whether a course you're scheduled to teach will "make" enrollment, and so it has to do with knowing, as a faculty member, what you will teach in a given semester. I can "count on" my gen. ed. courses in a way I can't count on "electives" or even on courses within the major. Thus, revisions of general education requirements almost always end up ending in stalemate and basically in failure. (I should note that many at my institution are suggesting that we're heading for another look at gen. ed. revision, and that many have noted that they want me on that committee. Oh joy.) In addition to faculty entrenchment, this is a difficult place in which to innovate when it comes to administrative pet projects, as gen. ed. is the bread and butter of an institution like mine - it's what asserts that we are a "quality" institution, it affects accreditation, etc. In other words, there are a lot of things against innovating at the gen. ed. level.
That said, I think that's where we need to start with innovation. But how, at an institution like mine, do we change how gen. ed. works keeping in mind that students both need to be able to transfer in as well as to transfer out? How can this possibly start from an institution like mine?
I've got lots of ideas, but I'm tired of writing for now. Thus, I'm going to leave you with this cliff-hanger. If you've got ideas, or comments, do leave them. You can expect my Grand Plan for General Education in the coming days, and I'll take any feedback that you give into account.
eta: See Part III here.