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concerns. Those who
focus on costs talk
about outmoded
work rules including
tenure, presidential
salaries and perks,
the avariciousness of
athletic departments,
and higher education’s
commitment to
research always
trumping its
commitment to
teaching. Those
who worry about
the curriculum
continue to focus on
its fragmentation,
on a corresponding devaluing of the liberal arts, and on the
continued sense that “almost anything goes” when it comes to
approving new courses, newmajors, even new disciplines.
Curricular change as the solution
The way out of this box, we believe, is to change the
curriculum to productively constrain both student and faculty
choice. We would start by having students choose not among
an expanding menu of courses, but among a much shorter
list of curricular pathways—that is, an ordered sequence of
courses linked together by faculty design. This curricular
structure would yield a much more efficient match between
student needs and institutional resources. There would be
fewer underenrolled courses and, not so incidentally, more
courses taught early in the day as well as onMondays and
Fridays (perhaps even on a Saturday morning).
We would also use a cohort model in which sets of
students take most, perhaps even all of their courses together.
Faculty responsible for remedial and developmental
educational programs using a cohort model report important
learning advantages leading to substantial increases in student
attainment. At the University of Pennsylvania we teach in a
graduate program that employs a fixed curricular pathway
(no electives at all) and a cohort model in which peer learning
is a constant, and faculty discussions of what and how each of
us is teaching occur regularly.
Several other innovations would be made more
likely by this restructuring of the curriculum. A changed
curriculum that employs well-defined pathways through
the curriculum could also award credit for demonstrating
competence in the subject without having the student sit
through a particular course. In general we believe a changed
curriculum could take greater advantage of technology, both
to achieve better learning outcomes and to verify that specific
competencies have been mastered. In the process of recasting
the curriculum it should also be possible to take greater
account of the large numbers of students who will earn their
undergraduate degrees while attending several, rather than
just one, undergraduate institutions. Finally, it is even possible
that such a curriculumwould allow students to graduate in
three rather than four years.
The kind of reformwe have in mind has one final
distinguishing characteristic—it cannot be accomplished
without full faculty engagement. Only the faculty can design
the curricular pathways we have in mind—a lesson that those
who constantly prattle about greater efficiency and more
learning productivity need to keep in mind.
Robert Zemsky is the founding director of the University of
Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education and
current chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education.
Joni Finney is vice president of the National Center for
Public Policy and Higher Education, and practice professor,
Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.
The more open-ended
the curriculum
became, the more
resources, both
financial and human,
the institution
required to meet
its educational