New W&M curriculum will cost $1 million to implement

— Rolling out a new general education curriculum at the College of William and Mary will cost nearly $1 million. Maintaining it is expected to cost another $700,000 per year once the transition is complete.

The “College Curriculum” as it has been referred to was approved in December by a 101-83 vote, with one abstention. Fewer than half of the college’s full-time faculty voted.

Critics have referred to the new curriculum as a “dumbed down,” less rigorous version of William and Mary’s current general education requirements. It’s a claim the college has refuted throughout the adoption process.

“There is no ‘dumbing down’ in this curriculum,” Provost Michael Halleran said during a report Thursday to the Board of Visitors Committee on Academic Affairs. “It will be no less rigorous than the current one. In fact, the emphasis on integration should make it more intellectually demanding.”

He added that suggestions that rigor is only attached to certain pre-defined courses within specific subjects is “deeply mistaken and without any foundation.”

William and Mary will pilot the new curriculum this fall, with full implementation in 2015. Halleran said development costs over three years total about $850,000.

He explained that there will be a transition period during which the college will maintain both the old and new curricula. He said it’s anticipated that the college will need $150,000 in additional funds in 2016 and 2017 for transitional costs. Starting in 2019, another $700,000 per year will be necessary to fund research experiences for all undergraduates required under the new curriculum.

“To be honest, I admit that we do not know all the possible ramifications to these changes,” Halleran told the Visitors from a prepared statement. “Any changes or tweaks that need to made can be effected easily.”

Facets of the old general education curriculum will remain, including freshman seminars, language requirements, and writing and math proficiencies, according to Halleran. He said under the College Curriculum students will also still be required to take courses from three broad areas of study: Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences.

Halleran cited five key differences between the old and the new.

•Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate credits from high school will not satisfy the College Curriculum courses, which will be taken at William and Mary.

•Students will also taken on “big ideas” course to develop communication skills and encourage critical thinking.

•One course in each of the three broad areas of study that has interdisciplinary components will be required. For example, Halleran noted that a course in fifth century Athens from the perspectives of art religion, literatures and anthropology would fit that criteria.

•Global understanding an research are also major focuses of the new curriculum. Every student will study abroad or take COLL 300 level courses on campus to gain global perspective.

•Each student will also have a culminating experience, which will be based in research and usually within his or her major, during the final year.

Board member Charles A. Banks III asked how the college planned to help students with financial need get to places like Italy for a semester or a year. Halleran clarified that study abroad is not required under the new curriculum. He added that the college recently got a bequest for $2.5 million, a portion of which is dedicated to study abroad.

Board member John C. Thomas questioned whether the college had made itself an outlier by doing something “completely outside the pale.” Halleran said there is a wide array of curricula in higher education. He cited St. John’s College in Annapolis, which has no elective courses, and Brown University, which requires English composition and a major, then allows students to essentially design their own curriculum, as extremes.

Halleran said four faculty fellows are leading the effort to develop the new curriculum. He said pilot versions of courses will be launched next year and additional courses developed. The office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences is also working to obtain grant funding to support the development of the new curriculum, according to Halleran.

Robertson can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

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