Thursday, December 28, 2006

Let a million cores bloom 

When I was an entering freshman at St. Anselm in 1975, the school had orientation weekend. We all got to stay in the dorms overnight -- even those of us, like me, who were "mill rats" commuting from home in Manchester -- and we went to some information sessions. Registration consisted of asking two questions: which science, chemistry or biology? and which language, French, Spanish, or Latin? (Chem and Latin, if you must know.) We all got English I, we all got intro to philosophy, and math. The process took less than ten minutes, leaving plenty of time to check out all the new females who didn't know me from high school. (Don't ask.)

I imagine it's a little different now, though looking at their core curriculum makes me think not too much different. (I see math is gone from the BA core -- that's a shame IMO.)

Universities today are of course much different, and after discussing Diogenes' search for a good university a few weeks ago I got into discussions with my two siblings, one of whom has a daughter going to college next year and the other in Fall 2008. The latter one is an athlete who likely gets a scholarship somewhere. That and an email this morning about our new First Year Experience program at SCSU got me to thinking what we're doing to get students a better education. FYE is an attempt to use peer pressure to keep kids in school, creating friendships and programs. But at a school our size -- with about 2000 entering first-year students -- creating 70-100 cohorts of 20-30 students each means you're going to get a list of different themes that are not all created equal. Some of them are program-based, with offerings in business and engineering for example that make sense. You get introduced to your fellow majors (or those likely to do so) earlier. This doesn't work so well in economics because, as I'm sure I've said before, few students know they want to be economists upon leaving high school, particularly among the population of students that go to large state universities.

But others are theme-based, and get a load of some of these themes:
  • From Surviving to Thriving: Connecting Lives to Social Change. This learning community takes an interdisciplinary approach to the exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality with a thematic focus on social inequalities, self-transformation, and purposive action to bring about positive change so that students can begin claiming their education.
  • Musical Roots of America. This community provides an exploration of race in America through the musical genres of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, country, folk and rock.
  • Journey to Planet Earth. Students will study the relationship between people (communities, societies, countries) and the physical environment in which they live, the impacts they have on their environment and how their environment also impacts their lives.
Note as well that this was the best we could come up with for the 2nd year pilot program for FYE when we had 400 students in the program. Some people are coming up with ideas in science and engineering, but those would cover no more than 120 students.

What is an 18-year-old and her parents to make of these kinds of choices? You will notice the common multi-culti theme in these. Compare it to the core at St. A's I linked above. One of these schools offers a discounted price subsidized by tax dollars. The other has to attract people who pay their own money. Which one do you think provides greater value?

Wouldn't it make more sense to send your child to a place where the university had an idea of what the student would become, rather than helping the student become whomever he or she wants at that time?

At 18, I wanted to be a doctor. And a rock star.