I submit that we create a problem for students with the language we use for General Education course requirements in the college arena. We call them Electives. The term Electives gives students the impression that these courses are optional, that they are not important and that these courses do not deserve the same attention as students’ vocational courses. Many faculty reinforce this idea with the way they think and speak about the place electives have in their program.
In the summer of 2016, I got curious about a specific group of students who didn’t graduate. I wondered how many students where in their final semester of a program, who had at least a grade point average of 3.0 out of 4 and were not eligible to graduate. There were more than I expected. And then I looked at why they were not eligible. Electives. The majority had failed, dropped or skipped an elective in their first three semesters and that was what prevented their graduation at the end of their final semester. Many had enrolled in an elective course in the Spring semester but it meant that these students would not be walking across the stage with their class in June. Our college had set targets for increasing retention for the year. Graduating this group of students would have exceeded our targets.
So how do we address this? I have three suggestions:
- Let’s stop calling these courses electives. These are General Education REQUIREMENTS – you need these to graduate. An addendum would be to also change other faculty conversations about the importance of these course to students.
- Let’s do a systematic check of students as Winter semester ends and suggest Spring semester options for catching up missing courses or a plan for picking up the additional course during the regular semesters.
- Let’s talk to students about the benefits of General Education requirements.
Today’s Daily Extend took me to ClassHook, and there I found this clip:
Dead Poet’s Society: What will be your verse
Mr. Keating emphasizes the real-world applicability of words, language, and poetry. He encourages his students to contemplate their life’s purpose. The human race is full of passion- poetry, beauty, romance and life: the things people stay alive for. “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Let’s ask students about their passions, their life outside of work and the impact they wish to have. Let’s explore the options they have with General Education Courses and show them the possibilities for making their college experience unique. This discussion could come as part of a workshop, at faculty meetings during Orientation, or during one of their core courses in 1st semester.
If we can reframe electives, I believe we could both improve student experience and graduation rates.
Featured image: Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash