Nearly one year to the day since its formation, the university's Commission on Undergraduate Education has issued its anticipated interim report, a draft document that will ultimately serve as the blueprint for the future of undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins.
The roughly 40-page report, released today, contains the committee's general findings and specific recommendations that, once implemented, are intended to significantly improve the quality of the undergraduate experience over the next decade, while preserving the university's core research values.
The 40 members of CUE were charged with the lofty goal of re-envisioning the entire undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins, from academic curriculum and classroom instruction to housing and social life. The commission's primary task was to produce by spring 2003 a list of workable recommendations.
The six overarching themes, or guiding principles, of the report are the needs to strengthen community; foster a balance between academic and social life; offer a more personal education; be more intentional when it comes to undergraduate education; better integrate all elements of the academic and social experiences; and bridge the gap between the perception that "no one cares" and the reality that many do care.
Paula Burger, chair of CUE and acting vice provost for undergraduate education, said the commission's main goal is to raise the bar on the Hopkins undergraduate experience, building on Hopkins tradition and bringing it up to the exalted level of the university's graduate and research programs.
"We're talking about making something that is already very good, truly excellent," said Burger, who is also vice provost for academic affairs and international programs. "We are competing for students, just like we are competing for faculty, against a handful of institutions that offer absolutely extraordinary opportunities for students. If we want to be solidly in this peer group, we need to be very intentional about efforts to improve the undergraduate experience."
CUE, formally convened on Jan. 31, 2001, by President William R. Brody and Provost Steven Knapp, is the first universitywide endeavor of its kind at Johns Hopkins and is part of an effort to keep the university well-positioned amid an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace. In the past 10 years, peer institutions such as Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Yale and, most recently, Harvard have embarked on similar comprehensive reviews of their undergraduate education.
The commission reflects the interest of the president, provost and deans in improving the experience for undergraduates. The university's upcoming reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education provided the timely opportunity to engage in a serious review, Burger said. The evaluation, which occurs every 10 years, will take place this year, and in the self-study portion of the process, Hopkins decided to focus on undergraduate education. Burger, in conjunction with her role in CUE, also chairs the reaccreditation steering committee.
The 40 members of the diverse commission include faculty, students and senior staff from the university's five divisions that have undergraduates; representatives from the schools of Medicine and Public Health; alumni; and trustees. Of the university's 5,208 undergraduates, 3,746 are in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, 1,805 in the Whiting School of Engineering, 323 in the Peabody Institute, 284 in the School of Nursing and 445 in the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.
The committee's 33 recommendations cover four broad areas of undergraduate life, including the academic experience, advising and career support, diversity, and student life. To emerge with these recommendations, four working groups used the last 12 months to examine undergraduate survey data, interview faculty and administration, conduct focus groups, meet with external consultants and review relevant reports from peer institutions, among other activities.
The recommendations range from immediate measures, such as appointment of directors of undergraduate studies in each department, to more long-term goals, such as taking steps (spelled out in the report) to significantly increase the retention and graduation rates of all undergraduates.
On the subject of student life, the report calls for the development of new residences at Homewood that would, over a period of no more than 10 years, guarantee four years of housing to all students. To improve the academic experience, the commission recommends that each school and/or department appoint a senior-level administrator to oversee its undergraduate programs.
The major focus of the report is the need to strengthen the sense of community at Johns Hopkins. To this end, the report recommends, among other efforts, the creation of more campuswide programming at Homewood and intramural sport activities that would appeal to a broad range of students.
"We need to do a better job of fostering traditions and setting up opportunities where students can get to know one another and share in the undergraduate experience," Burger said. "Some traditions have already started to take hold, and we need to continue to generate excitement about them."
Burger said the commission is currently in the process of soliciting feedback on its interim report from the university community. She said the plan is to present the report over the next two months to the various constituencies, including deans, department chairs, faculty groups, student government organizations and academic councils.
Allowing for adjustments, a final report will be issued to the president, provost and the deans in late April or early May.
Burger said that while the challenge that lies ahead is great, there is every reason to believe the university will succeed in this important endeavor.
Speaking to the future of undergraduate life at Johns Hopkins, Burger shared her vision.
"Today, if you go and grab several students at random and say, 'Tell me about your undergraduate experience,' I think generally most students will talk about the exceptional opportunities that they had to study with some amazing faculty, but there will be a "but" in there somewhere, and then they will talk about other things that have disappointed them," she said. "Five or six years from now, when we ask some students, I hope they wouldn't say the 'but'; rather they would say, 'And I also grew in these ways because the university was there helping me.' "
To view CUE's interim report, go to www.jhu.edu/news_info/reports/cue.