Report to the President

Undergraduate Education

A well-articulated and coherent curriculum for undergraduates, updated to meet 21st-century needs, is essential for the University to fulfill its academic aspirations. We have the opportunity to implement a new model of education in the near term and should act on it immediately.

BU has yet to fully capitalize on the mixture of liberal arts and professional programs available to our undergraduates and to exploit and support the central role that CGS and CAS play in our undergraduate curricula. We must find ways to convert programmatic diversity, complexity, and size into distinctive strengths for our students. We need to forge stronger, creative, and more seamless ties between CAS/CGS and the professional Schools. We must also develop the means for effective large-scale education that combines personalized teaching with the use of technology. We need to study the curriculum models used by other universities, on campus and online, and adapt them to BU. We must articulate specific tracks and pathways through the undergraduate curriculum, with CAS and CGS clearly at the core of the undergraduate experience. A Task Force on Undergraduate Education will be instrumental in implementing these ideas.

We are educating students for life and work in a world that requires them to think within a global context. It is a world where societal change is rapid, and science and technology infuse most aspects of life and pose new dilemmas. Our students must learn to understand and adapt to the global nature of economic, social, and cultural developments and complexities. They must be prepared to interact meaningfully and fruitfully with individuals from a variety of cultures. As competition becomes increasingly global, we must recognize that levels of literacy, mathematical skill, scientific understanding, and reasoning ability are declining in American higher education. We need to reverse this trend. Fundamental knowledge of basic science and technology is essential for our undergraduates. We must also instill in students a grasp of history, social science, the humanities, ethics, and a sense of individual purpose. With these objectives in mind, we should develop an exemplary, forward-looking, and distinctive model of undergraduate education for the 21st century.

Undergraduates at all colleges and universities face certain challenges: lack of direction, feelings of disconnectedness and not belonging, early pressure to specialize and achieve in areas that turn out not to be of lasting interest, and confusion about how to handle new choices and dilemmas they encounter. We must be sure to offer the support and attention that undergraduates need to overcome these challenges, especially in their first two years. We can help new students by more clearly articulating the various pathways open to first-year undergraduates and by committing to personalized, effective mentoring and advising throughout students’ time at BU to ensure that they receive accurate and insightful guidance when needed. Advising should cover everything from the mechanics of scheduling and registration to guidance on intellectual avenues.

Recommendations

Recruit, retain, and graduate an undergraduate student body of the highest caliber that reflects BU’s historic commitment to inclusion; anticipate and prepare for demographic and socio-economic changes in the traditional college-age population.

  • Increase the diversity of the undergraduate student body.
  • Optimize student recruitment and the use of full- and half-tuition merit scholarships and need- based grants to enhance the quality, ethnic diversity, and socio-economic diversity of the undergraduate student body.
  • Actively promote collaboration among enrollment staff, student affairs staff, faculty members, current students, and alumni to meet enrollment goals and to ensure the ultimate success of our students.
  • Support undergraduates in pursuing research opportunities, recognition for academic achievement, and professional preparation; devote resources to improving academic advising, educational support services, and career counseling and placement services.
  • Expand and improve orientation programs to facilitate more peer-to-peer and faculty connections and to make use of appropriate technology.
  • Further develop study- and internship-abroad programs; enhance student choice, experience, and the quality of the intellectual experiences of all BU undergraduates.

Define and refine the first two years of undergraduate education so that the liberal arts and sciences in CAS and CGS are at the core, with strong reciprocal connections between CAS/ CGS and the professional Schools.

  • Revitalize undergraduate education in the core liberal arts by reviewing curricula in undergraduate programs, CAS, and CGS and by identifying core needs in professional Schools.
  • Examine student-faculty ratios to determine how best to accomplish key recommendations for enhancing undergraduate education.
  • Expose students early and often to challenging and broadening courses. Ensure that undergraduates are intellectually engaged in their first two years at BU and are not merely fulfilling requirements. Help students acquire new knowledge and determine which methods of teaching and learning work best for them. Provide advising to help students develop a larger plan for their future.
  • Provide all first-year students with small (10 students or fewer), faculty-led, staff-assisted, multidisciplinary seminars. Utilize educational technologies effectively and efficiently to help faculty maximize the value, impact, and interest of class time and discussion.
  • Ensure that general education requirements among the Schools/Colleges are sufficiently alike and flexible enough to enable informed students to change direction or add a major or minor without incurring additional cost or a delay in graduation.
  • Offer students up to two “GPA-free” courses during their first two years, to encourage those who seek intellectual challenges; urge and enable bold choices of coursework across Schools.
  • Identify the specific capabilities that every graduating student should have. Core capabilities in writing, speaking, reasoning, and presentation should be updated to meet the needs of today’s
  • and tomorrow’s graduates. Expectations in basic science, quantitative analysis, knowledge of global developments, and languages should be defined clearly and pursued energetically.

Enable students to more easily navigate and manage their academic and co-curricular activities.

  • Establish higher, more personalized standards for student advising services and advising across the University; build training and feedback mechanisms into processes to ensure that these standards are met.
  • Make better use of online course tools and technology to manage the business of being a student.
  • Create guides, referral directories, self-service tools, help centers, and other effective mechanisms to smooth the everyday interactions of students, staff, and faculty.

Make the development of life and learning tools a central tenet of undergraduate education.

  • Encourage all students to participate in an internship, research or scholarly project, or substantial community service opportunity; and continue to develop and maintain partnerships in the city of Boston and around the world with corporations, councils, research laboratories, academic seminars, etc. to increase potential opportunities for BU student involvement.
  • Connect academic and extracurricular activities where possible.
  • Develop multidisciplinary, cross-School “learning for life” courses that involve alumni, students, faculty, and staff.
  • Instill in students a sense of engaged citizenship and global perspective as well as the capacity for continuous intellectual growth.

Establish a Task Force on Undergraduate Education to make more detailed recommendations and to test and implement the strategic recommendations stated above.

  • The Task Force will be convened immediately and propose changes in the near term; annual reports will be submitted to assess progress toward our objectives.