Co-Curricular Education


Learning experiences that take place outside of classrooms contribute to a dynamic, complete student who can integrate functional relationships with his or her life. This section discusses ways to use the assets of the University to increase students’ participation in effective, highly meaningful educational practices. In addition to culminating experiences during the final year of study, study abroad opportunities, and opportunities for quality undergraduate research, co-curricular experiences must include service learning and opportunities to live in learning communities.

Today’s college applicants emphasize their commitment to service and volunteer work as a significant (and unique) part of their admission profiles. Given that BU’s pedagogical mission emerged from a tradition of service and our alumni continue to dedicate themselves to compassionate industry, community vision, and vocational energy, we must expand this aspect of our undergraduate education. Co-curricular opportunities, traditionally defined as internships, research-related employment, directed volunteer work, membership in student clubs, and community service, stand as a significant means for the University to extend the learning community for substantial outcomes both within and beyond BU.

The significance of co-curricular, experiential learning, and volunteerism in today’s undergraduate education has attracted considerable interest in recent years. The AAC&U’s 2008 report, College Learning for the New Global Century, maintains that undergraduate liberal education must “engage the big questions” that not only introduce students to different cultures but actually involve them in issues like “global interdependence” and “human dignity and freedom.” We note that in October 2009, an AAC&U conference entitled “Educating for Personal and Social Responsibility: Deepening Student and Campus Commitments,” focused solely on this issue.

But, the frequent inertia at the Tier-1 institutional level to creating a “campus-wide culture of service and an infrastructure to maintain it” unfortunately widens the chasm rather than bridges the divide between academic work and student life/co-curricular involvement. To close that gap, more and more colleges now offer certificates for courses that encourage community involvement and service work.(19) In addition, an important report by the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council, “Curricular Guidelines for Undergraduate Study in Nonprofit Leadership, the Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy” (2007) claims “community engagement as an essential element of undergraduate education” for students in all degree programs.

Boston University’s extensive co-curricular and student activities resources invite our undergraduates to question their places and roles in the world. Campus organizations like the student-run Community Service Center or student orientation programs, such as BU’s First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP), which blends orientation with co-curricular and collaborative research work, are particularly strong means for our students to fulfill humanitarian service work in the immediate Boston community. With these programs, our students participate in a variety of leadership and civic-awareness opportunities.

By nurturing this pluralistic awareness, BU can extend the learning community via real and compassionate action, and, consequently, command a notable place and a competitive edge in the national sphere. As we have stressed earlier in this document, Boston University’s liberal arts must work with the professional schools to prepare our undergraduates for their places as future citizens of a global community, and to encourage them to become responsible and ethically thoughtful individuals who apply the analytic skills from their education to the real problems in their communities.

Finally, we should continue to promote student participation in other effective, highly meaningful educational practices, such as first-year seminars and experiences, writing-intensive projects, internships, capstone projects and initiatives, and other collective learning and intellectual experiences.

One incentive toward a more socially aware and action-based BU undergraduate experience is the reward of a “civic engagement academic certificate”. A certificate for leadership and/or civic action, for example, could validate 1- and 2-credit courses and invigorate new approaches within those classes. These certificates would honor our students’ desires to effect change in their world.

Recommendations for Promoting Co-Curricular and Civic Responsibility

  • Consider awarding “certificates” for a leadership position and/or for a course sequence that demonstrates purposeful effort and social/civic contributions to a real-life situation or experience.
  • Establish a center (or dedicate part of an existing unit) for coordinating co-curricular opportunities.
  • Include orientation and mentoring programs like FYSOP in the “for-credit” package of the University’s experiential and service opportunities, letting students earn 1–2 credits as an independent project.
  • Promote 2-credit courses as flexible ways to incorporate co-curricular, cross-disciplinary, and volunteer work that stresses social awareness and civic activity, especially courses that include research-based and problem-solving assignments.
  • Establish flexible criteria that allow students to tailor a course of service work to their majors and to their career aspirations and thus encourage students to creatively combine individual elements of a degree program in a cohesive and more multifaceted portfolio of their work.

Recommendations for Faculty Development with respect to Co-Curricular and Civic Responsibility

  • Working with the Associate Provost for Faculty Development, encourage faculty to adapt existing courses with more flexible assignments that stress applicability to real-life situations and thus lower the walls between the classroom and the community outside the classroom, between coursework and intern and volunteer experience.
  • Create a virtual bulletin board for all University faculty to encourage discussion about co-curricular assignments and to foster an inclusive and ongoing dialogue between the various programs, schools, and colleges.
  • Encourage innovative interdisciplinary assignments, course design, and grant-funded projects in areas that have commonalities and a “global reach.”

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19. Arizona State University, for instance, broke ground with its American Humanics program which, since 1948, provides students an academic program in nonprofit administration as a professional path (New York Times, Section F, “Giving,” 11/11/08).