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NIU PLUS: Everyone must support Gen Ed changes

April 3, 2014

Photo of a sports team huddleby Michael Kolb

The entire NIU community needs to support changes to our General Education curriculum.

Higher education institutions across the nation are implementing curricular changes in an effort to meet society’s demands for a 21st century workforce. Calls for educational reform have been sounded by industry leaders and national reports on education and by big thinkers and critics.

A recent survey of 300 higher education institutions indicates that almost half have prioritized general education reform in the near term. NIU is also following this trend in order to ensure that every undergraduate student experiences a quality and challenging curriculum that will prepare them for career success.

But it is natural to ask – why do we need curricular change?

The previous article mentioned some of the shortfalls of our current general education program which include both student dissatisfaction as well a high drop in general education course enrollments. These data suggest we have not been properly meeting the needs of our existing students and that we must do better job at making NIU a competitive destination of choice for both first-year and transfer students.

And while the PLUS Task Force is drafting possible improvements in the structure and curricular integrity of the general education program, making general education more successful become the responsibility the entire NIU community.

NIU studentsOur students, for example, must take a greater responsibility for their own general education.

Most usually consider general education an obstacle rather than an opportunity – a set of courses that need to be gotten out of the way as soon as possible in order to make way for major studies. And so, despite the best efforts of the faculty to offer new courses or paths of instruction, they are likely to go unnoticed by most students who will remain unaware of the reasons for change.

Students must therefore take the opportunity to understand and implement their own general education program of study.

Our faculty must also become more actively engaged and invested in the general education program. Because they are specialists grouped into disciplines and departments, they often forget or overlook the role that general education can play in preparing students – not only for their major course of study, but also for life after NIU. Faculty must likewise better understand and commit to the pedagogy and effort necessary for improving the delivery of the general education courses they teach.

Finally, our institution must also prioritize general education if it is to succeed. Maintaining a program that has no home department or formalized faculty body is a challenge, particularly in difficult financial times. It is the role of our institution to facilitate the delivery of general education courses and to allocate the resources needed to heighten both student and faculty expectations of general education learning.

In sum, we cannot improve our general education program without a conscious cultural shift of the entire NIU community.

NIU Plus logoNIU Today is discussing these curricular changes through a series of brief articles over the next few days in conjunction with the release of potential curricular reforms by the PLUS Task Force. The task force seeks your input by Thursday, May 1, to make the proposed curricular changes stronger.

Michael Kolb is general education coordinator and professor of anthropology at NIU.