There’s little argument against the benefits of earning a college degree. There is, however, growing sentiment that the once-vital achievement for those wanting to enter nontrade professions has shifted from being the final step to being just a first step in work-readiness in a competitive job market, in which employers want a more equal mix of knowledge and creative expertise from applicants.
For students, that means acquiring the perfect blend of technical know-how and soft skills such as critical thinking, civic engagement and leadership capability, according to local college educators and administrators.
“I think that institutions are increasingly being held accountable for what their students know and are able to do, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Bob Shea, director of the Bryant University Center for Teaching and Learning. “When I started teaching 20 years ago, things were dramatically different. We need to think about the way that we structure the scaffold for students to get to a level of performance we’re confident in.”
Bryant University last winter designed a new core curriculum for students effective for the class of 2016 – who began school this fall – partly in order to address these concerns. The school is not alone in the move.
Across Rhode Island, colleges and universities are revisiting, revamping or augmenting their foundation-learning programs to better meld creative and technical learning and teaching, to encourage experiential-learning opportunities, and to improve the way they measure how students are responding to and achieving outlined goals.
Beginning with this year’s freshman class, Providence College instituted a new core curriculum after exit surveys from students indicated they felt they weren’t well-equipped in some skill areas, particularly written and oral communication.
Brown University, which has an open curriculum in which students design their own set of core courses, reworked its writing requirement beginning with the class of 2015. Students now must demonstrate work on their writing at two different points in their time at Brown. They previously were allowed to complete work at their discretion.