Monday, May 10, 2010

Resonating Requirements

At this time of year, I spend a lot of time with accepted students and their families.  My primary goal is to convince our accepted students to attend Hofstra.  But inextricably interwoven into this goal is the corresponding desire for these students to make the best informed decision possible, the decision that best fits their needs, goals and aspirations.

It always resonates well with potential students to talk about the wide range of available majors.  Most new students will tell you that they have made up their mind regarding a major and perhaps even a career path.  But the reality is that some students change their mind and change their major and I am fully supportive of students doing so.  A good college education provides the opportunity to explore new fields. If one of these fields interests you enough to make that your major, higher education is clearly facilitating your growth and development.

It also always resonates well with potential students and their families to talk about the high quality of the faculty and their commitment to teaching excellence.  For me this has always been a pivotal point.  Thinking back to my own education, the courses I liked and those I didn’t like were highly correlated with the quality of teaching.  The more dynamic, knowledgeable, and articulate the faculty member, the more I enjoyed the course, and, in my opinion, the more I learned.

For families, at times even more than for accepted students, advisement, counseling, public safety, internship opportunities and placement all matter a great deal and all resonate well.

But what sometimes doesn’t resonate well are the degree requirements other than the major.  By degree requirements I don’t mean the minimum number of credits or the minimum GPA.  No one questions these requirements and everyone understands.  The requirements that are sometimes questioned are the distribution requirements that ensure a student receives a well rounded education.  The faculty, and this is true throughout higher education, carefully structure a foundation that any educated person should have and build in the curricular structure that provides that foundation. As we know, there is not one universally agreed upon foundation covering all of higher education, and there are often great discussions – and these typically include disagreements followed by compromises – on what should and should not be in the curricular structure.  But if our goal is to educate a well rounded person, requirements that include exposure to a critical body of knowledge, are the necessary means to this end.  Within this framework, in my opinion, we should provide for as much choice as possible.

I still remember my undergraduate experience that included passing a mandatory course in swimming as a graduation requirement.  In those days, if you didn’t swim, you didn’t graduate.  I am a recreational swimmer but a swimming graduation requirement (and there were no alternatives) made no sense.  Today’s challenge in developing distribution/graduation requirements is still to make sure we include what is essential and stop there.

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