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Feb 2

Written by: kmurphy
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 

Online journal Inside Higher Ed released an interesting in-depth look at Lynn University today. Located in Boca Raton, Florida, Lynn is often misunderstood. This article should clear some things up as Lynn makes some interesting changes.

The grim portrait of American college students adrift as they breeze through their postsecondary educations with little expected of them and even less to show for it has dominated headlines in recent weeks. But not all colleges fit the description. Some institutions from outside elite Northeastern enclaves have taken deliberate steps to increase academic rigor, sharpen their students' critical thinking and analytical reasoning, and expose them to richer subject matter.

Take, for example, Lynn University, a Boca Raton, Fla., college serving approximately 1,800 undergraduates. If Lynn is known outside the region, it is probably for its specialty in educating those with learning disabilities, its sports teams, its business management and hospitality programs or, sadly, for the tragic deaths of four Lynn students and two faculty members who were on a humanitarian trip to Haiti when the massive earthquake struck last year.

But Lynn also has ambitions. In 2006, following the appointment of Kevin M. Ross as president (replacing his father, who served for 35 years), the university's administration and trustees adopted a vigorous strategic plan that set higher expectations for what Lynn's students should learn. The centerpiece that emerged is a very prescribed core curriculum with one set of reading materials, common assignments and assessments, and explicit targets for the amount of reading and writing students must do. It is also grounded in the liberal arts. Ross was exposed to this kind of education as a master's student at St. John's College in Annapolis, Md. Like its better-known undergraduate program, St. John's master's in liberal arts focuses on the Great Books. "We had a pretty solid core," Ross said of Lynn's previous curriculum, "but it looked like everyone else's."

Just about every one of Lynn's reforms -- raising and standardizing expectations of students, increasing the volume of reading and writing required, and making the liberal arts more central to the curriculum -- reflects the kinds of changes to the academy that are called for in a new book, Academically Adrift, that has attracted considerable notice.

Moving Away from Gen Ed

The prior system at Lynn, like the general education or distribution requirements in place on other campuses, let students explore their own interests. But that system, like many others, had morphed into a hodgepodge of subject matter and expectations, said Cynthia Patterson, a historian who was hired as vice president for academic affairs and asked to guide the rebooting of Lynn's core curriculum. She worked together with other administrators and most of the faculty on an 18-month review and redrafting process. Patterson cited as influences several works that take a critical look at the results higher education has been producing: the writings of Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University who has written six books on higher education, including Our Underachieving Colleges; Declining by Degrees by Richard Hersh and John Merrow; and "Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College," a report that was part of a multipronged effort by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Among other things, that report urged "an invigorated and practical liberal education as the most empowering form of learning for the 21st century."

After the review, Lynn's faculty and administrators agreed they wanted all the college's graduates -- whether they major in English or hospitality management -- to have a common set of knowledge and methods upon which to build as they move through their college careers and into their majors. "We really did want to bring back the notion that [graduates should] have an understanding of human history and experience," Patterson said.

Efforts to review general education requirements are widespread. In fact, 89 percent of academic officials at 433 colleges nationwide who were surveyed by the AAC&U said they were reviewing or modifying their general education requirements, according to a 2009 report. "We saw we were witnessing a turning point in general education where the academy was turning away from a complete laissez-faire curricular model," said Debra Humphreys, vice president for communications and public affairs at the AAC&U. And yet, few institutions seem to be returning entirely to the renowned classics-based core curriculums at Columbia University or the University of Chicago. The most common efforts seem to graft required coursework onto a distribution model. "Are we going back to a complete core curriculum?" asked Humphreys. "Probably not."

The AAC&U survey also revealed a larger curricular weakness. Respondents were least likely (35 percent overall and 14 percent of those using distribution requirements) to describe their institutions' general classes as fitting into a coherent sequence of courses. Lynn, on the other hand, has become notable for the opposite. Humphreys praised what she called Lynn's explicit and intentional approach to "integrative learning," which she defined as requiring students to bring together what they learned from multiple courses and apply it elsewhere. In other words, it asks students to take the skills and means of inquiry taught in one set of courses and adapt it to another. "It's what students are learning across the curriculum," she said. "Not just the individual courses, but what does it all add up to?"

To read more, visit Insider Higher Ed


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