How many times do we articulate that response–as parents, as educators–without pausing to reflect on its inadequacy.
Like vitamins or daily exercise, the general education courses at many colleges and universities have long been viewed by entering students as something that the institution thought was ‘just good for them,’ in large part because we have had no vehicle to convincingly demonstrate their value to students in their careers and personal life.
But successful college graduates and employers already know that asking students to study a series of unrelated, general education courses and focus their education narrowly on their major does not adequately prepare young Americans to succeed in the competitive job market and in the evolving world economy. That is why, ten years ago, the faculty at William Jewell College created a unique core curriculum. This rigorous, comprehensive course of study is based on a set of intentional and progressive courses that requires every student to engage concepts and disciplines from multiple fields and sources, confronting diverse and often contradictory perspectives that regularly challenge the students’ political, moral, spiritual and civic assumptions.
Beginning with the class of 2008, Jewell is offering our students the option of translating their core requirements into a new “Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry” (ACT-In) major that emphasizes experiential learning and specific learning outcomes. Students who complete this major will have the life-enriching benefits of hands-on experience and a course curriculum that is designed to develop critical thinking skills.
Students who choose to make the core curriculum a major will also be required to have a major in a particular academic discipline, meaning they will graduate in four years with a double major.
In addition to completing the college’s core curriculum, students choosing the ACT-In major will add three hands-on experiences during their careers at Jewell. They will be required to embrace scholarship through undergraduate research or formal presentations; to demonstrate citizenship through study abroad, mission work and service learning opportunities; and to provide evidence of active engagement as members of the community through internships and other leadership opportunities.
William Jewell’s deliberate connection between the curricular and co-curricular lives of the college is an innovative approach. Our research tells us we are the first liberal arts college in the nation to launch a program of this type.
This curricular change at William Jewell College allows us to more clearly communicate the type of experience students will have. It allows us to more purposefully fulfill our mission, and prepares students to engage more fully and deeply beyond themselves–a goal which is, after all, the very point of education.