Standard 4. The Academic Program - Description
Stonehill's programs include those usually found in a liberal arts college setting and some (Business Administration, Health Care Administration, Education) that are more unusual at liberal arts colleges. We consider these professional programs to be a "plus" as they offer interested traditional liberal arts and sciences students access to courses that can provide some professional preparation -- and they offer the students in professionally-oriented programs a far more robust liberal arts foundation than is found in most professional schools. The breadth of our programs is a strength: we offer forty-four (44) majors in the liberal arts, sciences, and pre-professional disciplines, thirty nine (39) minor courses of study and the option to create an interdisciplinary concentration of four (4) to five (5) units of study. The College has published policies and procedures for admission and retention, and although students can declare a major immediately, they are admitted to Stonehill College, not to particular "schools," "colleges," or programs.
The academic program is at the center of institutional strategic planning efforts. This was the case in College's first strategic plan (2001-05), in the subsequent long-range planning effort (2006-15), and in the two strategic plans that have emerged from that long-range plan. In the current planning process, every department was asked to develop a departmental plan that would become part of the strategic plan. We have now reached a point where planning and evaluation are truly systemic at the college and where annual operational planning and performance efforts emerge directly from the strategic plan. Financial forecasting and annual budget development are directly linked to the strategic plan.
As can be seen in published materials such as The Hill Book or the college website, Stonehill's undergraduate programs provide both breadth and depth for students. They develop in students general knowledge, disciplinary mastery, and the skills and competencies required in the 21st century workforce and in post-baccalaureate courses of study. All students are required to complete the Cornerstone Program curriculum and one major program of study. Depending on the demands of that major program, students are free to organize the remainder of their studies to accomplish a second major, a minor, one or more interdisciplinary concentrations-or simply to explore more widely in any areas of the curriculum through unrestricted electives.
Each academic department has a stated mission that flows from the College's mission and has published goals, structure, and content for programs under their auspices. Goals include knowledge, skills, methods and, where appropriate, creative abilities. Programs are coherent and sequenced so that in most programs students take lower-level courses and methodology courses before they take upper-level major courses. A few majors have minimal sequencing and claim, with external support, that the major does not require a high degree of sequencing. Synthesis of learning is the goal of the Senior capstone. Majors range in course weight from as few as nine courses in the discipline to as many as 18 (BSBA Finance, BS Computer Science). All departments look to their disciplinary organizations (American Historical Association, Modern Language Association, American Philosophical Association, American Academy of Religion, etc.) for published guidelines on baccalaureate education and also use an approved set of peer and aspirant institutions in their self-studies to compare Stonehill's curriculum to a wider standard.
In descriptions of required or elective internships, practica, field work, international experience, and community-based learning, The Hill Book also documents the career preparation practices to be mastered. In addition, Seniors are encouraged to participate in a Senior Transitions program that helps students to identify their post-graduate goals and to use the college's resources to achieve them.
In the academic administration, the Provost and VPAA has ultimate responsibility for the quality of the curriculum. Direct oversight of academic departments is in the hands of the Associate VP and Dean of the Faculty and the Academic Department Chairs, who lead the governance oversight of the curriculum in each academic department and develop the means for assessing program quality and delivery. Departments, led by the Department Chair, undertake a systematic program review every seven years. Program review ensures the quality of existing programs-both through purposeful faculty self-evaluation and through the external evaluator review. This review includes both program and course content and the pedagogical methodologies elaborated on course syllabi. The Department Chairs all report to the Associate VP and Dean of the Faculty, who directly manages the cycle of program review-both the schedule for self-study and the external evaluation. There is ample evidence that program review at Stonehill can lead to significant changes-in equipment, personnel, or other resources.
Since Stonehill's last accreditation review, we have added a number of programs, including a major and minor in Gender Studies, a major Neuroscience, a major in Environmental Studies, a major in International Business, and (in Spring 2009) a major and minor in Catholic Studies. The College had historically offered only a minor in Physics, and it has added a major. We also changed our Criminal Justice program to a Criminology program that is more consistent with our liberal arts focus and with the aspirations of our students. The Fine Arts Department has been renamed the Department of Visual and Performing Arts to reflect the growth in Music and Dance in the program. In addition, we created a new program type: the concentration, which is a 4-6 course cluster, interdisciplinary in focus, and shaped by the student and an advisor to meet goals of the student's own design. These programs have been designed, reviewed, and championed by the faculty and brought to approval through the Faculty Senate.
A Director of General Education and the First Year works in concert with the faculty committee on General Education to evaluate and monitor the Cornerstone Program (details on the General Education Program are elaborated below). All programs of study require the completion of the Cornerstone curriculum. With the exception of Study Abroad, internship opportunities abroad and in New York and Washington D.C., and a cooperative engineering dual-degree program with the University of Notre Dame, Stonehill offers its programs only on its own campus in Easton, MA.
More broadly, the faculty and academic administration have undertaken a multi-year review of the overall curriculum and its current delivery system. In order to create more flexibility and multiple pathways to a degree, we propose to move from a course-based model (40 courses for graduation) to a credit model where one-, two-, three-, and four-credit courses will form a student's load, and 124 credits will be necessary for graduation. This process has allowed us more rigorously to explore the workload for students in the awarding of credit and to seek greater consistency across all disciplines. The Faculty Senate made its recommendation for this change in February and the President, with some minor accommodations, approved the changes in May. More detail is provided below under "Integrity in the Award of Academic Credit."
At the same time that we were evaluating the overall curriculum, a General Education Working Group has been laboring to propose modifications to the current Cornerstone Program. The final recommendations of a summer workgroup will be taken up by the faculty in the Fall semester, and they are likely to be approved.
These revisions alter rather than revamp the current program, which was implemented in 2002. At that time we determined that the "Western Heritage Core Curriculum" no longer served our students well. We began our process of revision by focusing what a Stonehill graduate should look like -- what skills and knowledge should be developed in that graduate. We entertained both measureable and ineffable qualities as we considered how to build the common academic experience.
We completely changed the program, and created a new four-year structure that includes attention to several domains of knowledge. Students begin with a 4-course core curriculum in the first year (Literature, History, Philosophy, Religious Studies), organized around the theme of "Critical Encounters." In the second year, we require students to demonstrate integrative learning through an interdisciplinary Learning Community (LC), a three-course cluster involving two disciplinary courses and a team-taught interdisciplinary seminar. Many students will take an LC that links their major area of study to a different discipline; others will use the LC to explore. The Junior Year requires a "Moral Inquiry" course, and in the Senior year students are invited to integrate general education skills with the skills and knowledge of the major in a Senior Capstone requirement. In addition to these sequenced experiences, students also fulfill distribution requirements in foreign language, statistical reasoning, natural scientific inquiry, and social scientific inquiry. The new program has been very well received, and several of its elements have become signature pieces of a Stonehill education.
As we implemented the General Education Program, we designed a number of assessments to inform our ongoing program review. We collected data on the four core courses, which we originally linked (enrolling the same students in a history section and a literature section, for example), and we discovered that these linkages were very uneven in quality. Since the focus of the sophomore year is on connections across disciplines, we decided that it might be confusing to make claims for integration in the first year that were not fully supportable. Indeed, over time, faculty conversation about student writing led us to determine that writing was the key element we should focus on in the first-year program. To that end, we have run a three year pilot of first-year seminars (mostly in the core courses) that are writing intensive.
Faculty members who teach these first-year seminars are trained by an external writing consultant who helps them to employ specific rubrics for evaluation and to work with other faculty on shared goals for student learning. A home-grown assessment tool that compares randomly selected sections of the freshman seminars with regular sections of the same core courses shows dramatic gains on the part of seminar students. Not only do the seminar students write better than their peers and express more confidence about their writing, but they also develop valuable college habits, such as discussing class material outside of class, visiting faculty members during their office hours, and working on multiple drafts of assignments. This has been confirmed by direct assessment of writing samples randomly selected across pilot and non-pilot sections.
Learning Communities also have a supplemental course evaluation form that collects data on the integrative aspects of student progress. These evaluations are used to assist the faculty and administration in developing the best possible integrative experiences for students. Other elements of the Cornerstone Program are evaluated at the course level. This coming year, we will give attention to senior capstones in order to determine how these can better measure the skills and competencies of the major and those of the overall academic program.
The recommendations of the General Education Working Group build on the strengths of the present Cornerstone Program-breadth and suitability-yet enhance the program in significant ways by adding the following dimensions: more intentionality around integrative learning; a new emphasis on global and intercultural perspectives; a new focus on writing and information literacy; a new emphasis on the arts; seamless integration of "general education" and major requirements; and a more intentionally developmental sequence of "signature" distribution requirements. The Proposal creates a framework for general education that is outcomes based, well integrated with major requirements, and informed and shaped by ongoing programmatic assessment. The changes, if approved, would take place as the College transitions from a course-based curricular model to a credit-based model and adopts/implements the SunGard Banner enterprise resource planning system.
Finally, it should be noted that the General Education Program leadership has changed several times in the last decade. The VPAA named a Director of General Education in January 2002. Later that year, a governance review upgraded the position to Dean of General Education. The inaugural Director /Dean saw the program through its four-year implementation, but then asked to return to faculty. At that time Stonehill hired a new Dean of General Education from outside of the College. When that second Dean of General Education was asked to step into the role of Dean of the Faculty, the Provost/VPAA requested a governance change that would return the General Education leadership role to a Director-level position, this time reporting to the Dean of the Faculty. We hired an excellent leader for the Program, and the Dean of the Faculty oversees his work.
Stonehill has no graduate degree programs. For brief period between 2003-2007, the college offered the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) degree. We established that program in response to changes in industry requirements for accountants to sit for the CPA exam (an additional 150 hours). Stonehill's MSA program was a 1-year full-time program, and many employers began to favor summer-summer programs, for which they offered their employees tuition benefits. Thus, accounting graduates who were being offered jobs with graduate school benefits had very little incentive to pay for a one-year full-time program, and enrollments declined. An internal evaluation resulted in the Business Department's recommendation that the MSA resources be redirected to support the undergraduate program.
Stonehill's degrees and programs follow expected practices in higher education and are categorized according the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). As delineated above, Stonehill publishes the requirements for earning a baccalaureate degree, gives the faculty oversight of the award of academic credit on campus, and executes judicious administrative oversight of credit granted for courses taken prior to attendance at Stonehill and for coursework undertaken at international institutions or at US colleges with which Stonehill has formal affiliations. Stonehill has a long history of offering credit for internships, practica, and several other forms of experiential learning, and the faculty reviews the content of such experiences to ensure that they are appropriate to earn credit. In addition, Stonehill offers only a very few individual courses on accelerated schedules, and those courses must be justified by the faculty member, approved by the depart chair, and reviewed by the Dean of the Faculty.
As detailed in Standard Six (Students), the College also takes seriously the academic integrity of all members of the community. A new academic integrity policy is reviewed by incoming students, and faculty members are encouraged to include a clear statement about plagiarism and academic honesty on their syllabi.
The gravity with which we approach the awarding of academic credit is clear from our recent multi-year study of moving from a course-based graduation requirement to a credit-based graduation requirement. The proposal, which received support from the Faculty Senate and the academic administration, was approved by the President on May 2, 2009. Implementation will represent a major change in the structure of the curriculum as we will, in the next few years, begin to measure student academic progress by credits rather than courses. This will also afford us the opportunity to review carefully every aspect of the current curriculum. Indeed, support for the proposal rests on a plan for implementation that maintains academic integrity, advances curricular rigor and requires straightforward and sustainable oversight by Faculty, Departmental and Curriculum Committee.
Presently, Stonehill requires forty 3-credit or 4‐credit courses for graduation (less than 10% of our current courses are 4-credit courses), and under the new structure, students will take at least 124 credits made up of 2-, 3-, and 4-credit courses. In order to measure student academic progress, faculty must identify appropriate and measurable student learning outcomes for each course and design each course to meet these learning outcomes. In addition, each Department and the Curriculum Committee must ensure that the course upholds academic standards and supports related programs.
Every discipline recognizes the important pedagogical value of the intellectual conversation between the instructor and the student. It has been and will continue to be foundational to the Stonehill experience. However, emerging pedagogies and research on student learning have encouraged Stonehill instructors to design courses that use additional learning experiences to advance learning outcomes. Examples include laboratories, intensive writing, undergraduate research, community‐based learning, creative performance, use of technology, and short‐term travel. These pedagogies have already proved successful, on a small scale, at Stonehill. Moreover, they have also proved successful, on a larger scale, at other leading institutions. One advantage of the plan is that it allows for a seamless integration of such innovative pedagogies into the curriculum. The faculty workgroup presented 32 course templates to demonstrate the ways current and new courses can be organized to employ new pedagogies, achieve learning goals, and measure student progress.
The Implementation Plan for the credit model supports innovative course design to advance student learning. Two important characteristics of the plan are flexibility and ease of use. Flexibility is evident in the list of course templates, which includes a wide variety of different course types beyond those presently offered. Examples of increased flexibility include 1- and 2-credit courses and courses that include practica, travel, computer tutorials and other experiential learning components. Although such experiences are offered now, the course templates allowable in a credit model provide a more regular and formal way to offer flexibility in course design. These newer pedagogies can demand more intensive student work outside of class. A curriculum incorporating these pedagogies should reckon credits based both on contact hours and student work. This plan allows for the development of such intensive classes. It also establishes a straightforward process of course review and approval by the Department, the Curriculum Committee and the Academic Administration.
Ease of use is evident as the plan allows for a simple transition to a credit model from a course model. Existing 3- and 4-credit courses will be matched to one of the course templates in the credit model. The Curriculum Committee will formally review only new courses or courses altered in credit value. Of course, departments will have significant work ahead of them as they will be required to keep credit requirements in the major at the same percentage of a student's 4-year load as the current course model requires. Thus, if a department adds 2- or 4-credit courses, it must review the ways those courses fit into the student's experience of the major and examine how the changes may alter the overall structure of the program. The process of course review and approval is given below.
Given the variety of course types already in place and the possibility of even more types once Stonehill moves to a credit model, consistent ways to measure student progress and assign credit involve a combination of faculty‐student contact hours and student time‐on‐task. Student time‐on‐task is estimated by each instructor as part of the course design and is the best indicator of the number of credits appropriate for a particular course. Time‐on‐task includes time spent with the instructor in the classroom; time spent in other experiential learning activities beyond the classroom; and time spent by students completing activities that advance learning outcomes (e.g. reading assignments, preparing for tests, writing papers, developing presentations, working on group projects).
We propose that for a course to be significantly challenging and advance student learning, a student should spend 2.5 to 3 hours per week time‐on‐task (37.5 to 45 hours per semester) for each credit earned. Given the wide array of course templates, it is important that the individual Department, the Curriculum Committee and the Provost and Dean of Faculty provide oversight. At Stonehill, every course must engage students in rigorous critical inquiry into a content area and develop competencies consistent with the student learning outcomes of the curriculum.
This plan supplements the basic policies and procedures for changes in curriculum, including the responsibilities of the Departments and the Curriculum Committee, and it imposes some additional responsibilities. For example, as part of their review process for new courses or courses with altered credit value, it is the responsibility of the Department to assure that these courses match approved course templates. Under unusual circumstances, Departments may develop courses that do not match a template; in such cases, the course proposal must provide clear and ample justification for the exception.
As part of its approval process for new courses or courses with altered credit value submitted by the Departments, the Curriculum Committee will be responsible for approving proposed courses that match one of the course templates; it will, as exceptions, approve proposed courses that do not match a template if it finds the justification for the exception compelling. The Curriculum Committee will not approve proposed courses that neither match a template nor provide a compelling justification for an exception. The Curriculum Committee will return such proposals to the Department for further consideration, along with a rationale for its decision.
Finally, the Provost and the Dean of Faculty must ensure that the approval process conforms to all College policies and procedures and that human and financial resources are properly allocated to implement the courses. In addition, the Administration will review the overall design of the curriculum.
Students must carry at least twelve credit hours to be full-time students, but they will be advised that to make timely progress toward graduation, they must average 16 hours. In order to graduate with a baccalaureate degree from Stonehill College, a student must earn 124 credits and fulfill the following requirements: all requirements of the major; all requirements of the Cornerstone Program of General Education; at least 21 additional credits, which may include credits earned through elective courses, courses required for a second major, or courses required for a minor or interdisciplinary concentration. Students must petition their academic advisor and the Office of Academic Services in order to take 18 or more credits in a given semester (19 or more credits for the Sciences). Other criteria for granting overloads remain unchanged. Students will pay an additional fee for each credit earned beyond 18 credits in a given semester (beyond 19 credits in the Sciences). Normally, students may not take more than 20 credits in a given semester.
While Stonehill has made great strides in assessment of student learning since the last self-study, more must be done at the department and program level to adopt assessments beyond those imbedded in coursework. Indeed, Stonehill gathers data relative to student learning at the course, program, and institutional level. Faculty members are trusted to develop rigorous courses which include objective assessments of student progress with the course goals. Departments hold faculty responsible for student progress, especially in fields where course sequencing demands that students advance to a particular level before enrolling in the next course. Departments determine both their goals for student achievement and their traditional and non-traditional requirements. Departments also determine their methods of program evaluation. Some use home-grown tools, some use the major field test, some use departmental data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), a national tool that measures critical thinking and analytic reasoning skills, and some are still working to develop the tools they need. For more detail on each academic program, please refer to the E-series program assessment reports that accompany this self-study.
Although course-based assessment is not the only way Stonehill evaluates the effectiveness of its curriculum, faculty judgment concerning student progress is rigorous, and it is respected as the core of student evaluation. Most programs have set program-level evaluations for student learning to measure the effectiveness of the major. Some departments, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology, use major field tests as indicators of student learning that can be compared to national norms. Indeed, Stonehill students have performed well on these instruments, and when they have not measured up well in some aspect of disciplinary study, the departments have used that data to request resources that will help them improve. This was the case, for example, with low scores in Physical Chemistry-which led to the development of a new laboratory and an upper-level requirement in physical chemistry for majors.
Other departments use home-grown instruments to evaluate the major and its effects on student progress. Still others combine evaluation of student preparedness throughout their program sequencing with results from instruments like the CLA. And still others use graduate outcomes-such as placements in graduate schools, job placements, employer satisfaction surveys, or visiting committees-to determine whether their programs serve students well and prepare them for the needs of particular industries. Certainly, the Academic Program Review process also provides valuable opportunities for reflection, peer-review, and strategic change.
Finally, as described in Standard Two, Stonehill has a well-defined survey cycle that gathers data on experiences and learning outcomes. This assessment involves a combination of nationally-recognized survey instruments that provide direct and indirect assessments and valuable peer comparisons (NSSE, Noel-Levitz, CIRP, CLA, CAAP) and "home-grown" instruments that allow the flexibility to target mission-specific areas for detailed assessment (First-Year Seminar evaluation, Senior Exit Survey, One Year Out Survey). The assessment cycle also gives attention to student engagement, student satisfaction, graduate employment and post-baccalaureate educational attainment.
Over the last year, we have developed a map that matches aspects of each of these survey instruments to the six institutional learning outcomes for students: intellectual engagement, oral and written communication, disciplinary mastery, social responsibility, leadership and collaboration, and personal development. Using the survey results, we should be able to discover whether students are consistent in descriptions of their engagement or in expressions of their satisfaction. We will continue to refine the map to reflect any changes in desired educational outcomes and to determine its usefulness as an assessment tool.
Lastly, a Presidential and Trustee emphasis on graduate outcomes-job placements, graduate school placements, and post-graduate service placements-will require the Academic Administration to work closely with departments to better articulate not only what learning should be happening in every program, but also the types of graduate outcomes for which the program should prepare students.