In "What is College and What is It For?" students think critically about higher education throughout the semester. The course culminates in a project where students design their own college. The first aspect of this project is the mission statement. Students read a variety of mission statements from various colleges, like UMass Amherst, Deep Springs, Harvard, and Bunker Hill Community College. In class, they discuss what they learned about the respective schools by reading these, and what is unique about each school. This gets them to start thinking about what a college's purpose is. It also helps them realize that they are going to be making their own choices in this class.
This mission statement then serves as the basis for their future thinking about the college the students are each designing. Throughout the semester, the students have guest speakers, like former deans or athletic directors. Paul makes sure to situate these presentations within the larger project; he tells the students prior to the presentations that they are designing their own college and are hearing from this guest speaker in order to make more informed decisions about their own project. They are additionally prompted to consider how any choices they make will contribute to their college's mission.
At the end of the semester, students hand in a 10-12 paper that includes the name of the college, a mission statement, and a general description. Within this description, they state how they will assess the learning experience and the quality of the teaching. They must design living arrangements as well.
Students have come up with a variety of ideas -- from a five year college to a college with writing advisors that reads papers for every course until students are ready to proceed without the advisor. Students have created colleges for a population like themselves and for different populations.
Here is the introduction of the course followed by a description of the project from the syllabus:
In the fall of 2009, more than 16 million students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Who are these students, and why do they go to college? What are they seeking? This seminar asks students to think and write critically about higher education, considering, in Clark Kerr’s famous phrase, “the uses of the university,” from a variety of perspectives: historical, sociological, economic and developmental. As they do so, the seminar will address the questions that have faced students, administrators and public legislatures for over three centuries: What constitutes a liberal arts education? What are its goals? How should students be assessed? What role does extracurricular life, such as sports and fraternities and sororities, play in a college education? Does a college degree certify a vocational education, an intellectual one or a moral one?
Your assignment for the semester is to design your own college, including elements such as a mission statement, size, co-ed/single sex, core curriculum, athletics, social life, etc. It will become more obvious as we move more into the semester what should be included in your design. There will be a final paper which describes all the elements of “YOUR” college (including the name!) with thoughtful and referenced support for your design. Generally the paper will be in the range of 12-15 double spaced pages.
During the semester we will dedicate one of our classes for short student presentations. Each of you will present for 3-4 minutes an outline of the design for your college and the class will offer questions/suggestions/and general comments. At this time you will submit your written outline to me, so that I can give each of you feedback including suggestions about your design.