LYNDON — The planned merger of Lyndon and Johnson state colleges into a new Vermont university will usher in an improved general education curriculum to help students prepare for the practical demands of a global economy.
To reach that goal, both colleges received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in Yarmouth, Maine, for $224,646 over three years to support major curriculum changes for both campuses.
The private foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after his retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc.
On July 1, 2018, the two colleges will unify as Northern Vermont University. The merger will include separate college curriculums fused into a single program of active learning.
Although both colleges will maintain separate campuses after they merge, the new general education program will be launched during the fall 2018 semester, according to college officials.
“Unification gives us an opportunity to re-examine our processes and structure to more effectively serve our students,” said the colleges’ Provost Nolan Atkins, who will continue as Northern Vermont provost. “This work is currently under way in all functional areas across both campuses.”
Examples include awarding financial aid, the admissions process, curriculum delivery, academic support, student supporting services, and building course schedules, Atkins said.
“Hands-on learning is an effective, active learning method that reinforces and builds on theory that is taught in the classroom,” he said. “Our small class sizes ensure that students receive a great deal of attention from faculty as they engage in hands-on activities in and out of the classroom.”
Atkins said while writing is part of the general education program, its focus will more broadly address career readiness skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communication. An assessment process will ensure that students are acquiring these skills, he said.
Technology will be an important tool to enhance teaching, whether in the classroom or through “hybrid” online low-residency courses, that allow students to take all classes at both campuses, he said.
“It is expected that these modes of delivery will be an important part of the solution in providing our students access to a richer variety of course and degree programs,” Atkins said.
The General Education Program Design initiative provides both colleges with an “opportunity to refresh our curriculum, ensuring that our general education offerings are relevant for current student needs,” said Elaine Collins, who is president of Lyndon State and Johnson State and will become the president of Northern Vermont University with the merger.
“The new curriculum will focus more on critical thinking and problem-solving. The emphasis is on developing those habits of thinking rather than memorizing a lot of information,” added Sharon Twigg, Johnson associate professor and chairwoman of the writing and literature department, who leads the initiative.
“We’re trying to make the general education program more exciting to students by including courses with more high-impact, hands-on learning. It will provide them with a basic set of skills they need to do well in their major and to do well as they move on from college,” Twigg said.
Twigg said a combined general education curriculum will allow students to “move seamlessly” between courses offered at both campuses, because the requirements will be the same.
“For example, there will be some opportunities for students at one campus to take a course not offered at their home campus to fulfill a requirement, which expands the choices available to them,” Twigg said.
“While current programs offer some active learning opportunities, our goal is to make these an integral part of the new program.”
Students will play an active role in their classes, Twigg said, “which will better prepare them to contribute to their communities and careers.”
“One goal of a combined program, importantly, is to ensure that an NVU degree from either campus will mean the same thing — that a student has the kinds of knowledge and skills crucial to meeting the demands of today’s careers and pressing issues,” she said.
Twigg said the grant has helped the faculty team develop the new program. It will further provide resources for the team to create an assessment plan that is responsive to the needs of students.
One idea being discussed for the new curriculum for juniors or seniors involves linking two upper-level courses that address a pressing issue such as climate change.
Twigg said the curriculum could also include such opportunities as work in the community, internships and project-based learning, like a performance or research paper.
“It’s a lot more engaging for everyone to have students running the show a little more,” Twigg said. “Engagement is really important because we want students to stay in college and succeed. This is one program we hope will help with that.”
Officials said the transition process has been an intensive one, led by a team of faculty members from each campus. The team worked over the summer to develop a shared curriculum model that incorporates the best practices of each campus.
A consultant from the Association of American Colleges and Universities offered guidance during the process.
Twigg said the final general eduction program will be approved by the faculty during the next few months.
Founded in 1911, Lyndon State College operates a 175-acre liberal arts campus in Lyndon, with an enrollment of 1,500 students. Johnson State College, founded in 1828, is a small public liberal arts college located in Johnson. It has 1,549 students — both full- and part-time — enrolled.