According to Jim Wohlpart, the associate dean of students, Florida Gulf Coast University is going to have to make some changes.
In the past 15 years, demands have risen from parents, businesses and the federal government to prove that college students are learning and can demonstrate specific skills. Because of this, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has created a process that all universities must complete to prove that students are getting the most out of their education.
This year, a survey was sent to the employers of Florida Gulf Coast University alumni. When the results came back, employer feedback showed that FGCU graduates were lacking strong analytical, critical-thinking and information-literacy skills. The survey, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates, is the inspiration behind this season’s Quality Enhancement Plan.
The QEP is a requirement for universities undergoing reaffirmation with the SACS. It is a fiveyear process created to identify key issues that are brought to light after intense institutional assessment, which in FGCU’s case, is the weak state of student analytical, critical-thinking and information-literacy skills.
After a university undergoes the five-year process, it has a five-year preparatory period before the process must be done all over again. FGCU will start actively working through the reaffirmation process in 2015.
“Every school has to come up with a plan that will focus on some element of student learning and demonstrate that you’ve improved student learning in that area,” Wohlpart said. “We started ours two years ago and we had lots of students, faculty and staff submit many different suggestions. So it’s a long process.”
Once the key issues are addressed, committees develop and focus on learning outcomes and environments, and courses are evaluated according to the University’s mission. Leaders from each major will be selected to represent their field of study and share their most successful practices in the classroom.
By having representatives from each major come together, Wohlpart hopes to achieve a baseline of knowledge to compare the growth of student learning through assessment. During the QEP’s five years, curriculum changes will be implemented in every major at the beginning of each. At the end of the fiveyear period, a report must be submitted to SACS demonstrating that FGCU did in fact improve student learning.
“Its an enormous project, and all Undergraduate students will be affected by this,” Wohlpart said. “It’s very exciting.”
Wohlpart explains that students will see changes within their majors and their disciplines. An example of the kinds of changes that he imagines will be for gateway and senior capstone courses.
“[For each] major there is a gateway course, a junior-level course that you have to take before you can take any other courses,” Wohlpart said. “Then there is a capstone course at the very end of your college career, and there are many courses in between. But what happens in those courses in between is not necessarily correlated with what you were introduced in the gateway course. We need to create groundwork and build on it so by the time students get to their capstone course they have fully developed skills.”
Previous capstone projects have been assessed to see at what level of critical thinking, writing and information literacy students are. According to Wohlpart, FGCU’s students are not as high as the University would like them to be.
“We will keep making changes, and hopefully we’ll see that student scores will go up,” Wohlpart said. “Our students have actually scored fairly well in national comparisons, but we would like it to be higher.”
There is one student currently on the QEP committee, and Wohlpart invites anyone else who is interested in getting involved to contact him.
“It would be great to have students involved,” Wohpart said. “They would be shaping the education process at FGCU, which I think would be really cool to know that you have input on student learning from 2013 and on. It’s really important to (the Office of Undergraduate Studies) that the word gets out to students and that they get involved.”