August 2011 newsletter
Students at some of our institutions are finding new academic choices. From international development work to music theater to sports management, campuses are tailoring their offerings to meet the changing interests of students — while continuing to provide a well-rounded liberal arts education.
Melding music and theater
Cue the orchestra — St. Catherine University merged its music and theater departments in January 2011 and began offering a new major in Music Theater. This was the result of a two-and-a-half-year strategic planning process to make music and theater accessible to the St. Catherine community. "We wanted to broaden our students' study and participation opportunities in theater and music — disciplines that inherently complement one another," said Teresa Lyons Hegdahl, an assistant professor of theater.
Research revealed that there were relatively few Bachelor of Arts in Music Theater programs in the seven-state region and those programs required students to declare their major in their first year to graduate on time. "We wanted to find a way for students to complete our major in four years even if they don't start it right away," Hegdahl said.
The St. Kate's Music Theater major combines the two disciplines in a unique way. It's not just about performance, Hegdahl said; students also take courses in music appreciation, leadership, dancing and directing. "The program gives them broad-based skills; it's truly a liberal arts degree."
St. Catherine also wanted the courses to be open to non-majors, in keeping with its goal of expanding opportunities for participation. The courses are not sequential and there's only one prerequisite. "Any student can take World Music, Dance for Musical Theater or one of our other courses," Hegdahl said.
Developing a new major is a meticulous process at St. Kate's. Faculty members sent their proposal to the university's Undergraduate Educational Policies Committee, which evaluated it and made suggestions. When the proposal finally went before the faculty for a vote, it had been examined by many eyes, Hegdahl said. "There has been wonderful enthusiasm from students and faculty; we are very excited about this new major."
In May, Adara Bryan became the first graduate, since her previous coursework met the requirements of the new major. "Theater and performing arts has always excited me; I get the biggest rush when I am onstage," she said. Bryan plans to be an active performer in the Twin Cities and hopes to work with youth to provide positive theater experiences. "Thanks to the training I received at St. Kate's, I have already been cast in the beautiful musical 'Ragtime' at the Park Square Theater in St. Paul in next January and February," she said.
A multidisciplinary advantage
Macalester College students can now choose an International Development concentration that gives them a multidisciplinary perspective on global issues. With the college's emphasis on internationalism and service to society, it's an important field for Macalester, said Patrick Schmidt, an associate professor in Political Science. "This speaks to our focus."
Many students come to Macalester with an interest in international development work, yet they may not know quite what it is, Schmidt said. "This concentration gives them a roadmap and the chance to interact with faculty from different disciplines." Students take six courses from at least three different departments, including political science, economics, anthropology, geography, sociology and environmental studies. They learn about how shifts in social, economic, political and cultural institutions affect people's welfare and opportunities.
Schmidt describes concentrations as "super-sized interdisciplinary minors. At Macalester, concentrations "live or die" by faculty interest, he said; faculty work together to apply to the Educational Policy and Governance Committee. "We've had concentrations for five years and they have blossomed."
Macalester has long had people doing international development work, Schmidt says. Recent examples include Tyler Beckelman, a young alum who coordinated the logistics for food delivery with the World Food Program in Darfur, and Emily Hedin, a grad who co-founded a nonprofit in Lima, Peru with a Macalester professor and has a master's in development studies from Oxford.
"Students in this concentration will now be better positioned to take higher-level course offerings in the fields and maintain that momentum over their college career," Schmidt said. He noted that students will also have greater access to visitors and guest speakers that various faculty bring to campus.
Building on existing strengths
Concordia University, St. Paul, is the only private college in Minnesota classified as Division II by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. As such, it attracts a lot of athletes with an interest in its Kinesiology program. With the addition of Sport Management and Sport Psychology majors, students now have the opportunity to receive more specialized knowledge in these areas.
"These new programs draw on the strengths of the Kinesiology Department, but they are more career-focused," said Kristin Schoon, Concordia's director of undergraduate admission. Sport Management emphasizes business aspects, including facility management and promotion and marketing of sporting events. The Sport Psychology major focuses on training for performance improvement, as well as work with athletes, coaches, and parents regarding injury and rehabilitation, communication and team building.
"By combining the technical sports and business-related content of the discipline with a liberal arts tradition aimed at developing critical analysis and solutions-oriented thinking, we provide the benefits of a liberal arts education in a more relevant context suited to today's career minded students," said Eric LaMott, chair of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at Concordia.
To search for a specific major at our 17 institutions, consider using our new College Finder tool.
As the national call for recruiting talented college graduates into classrooms gains momentum, alumni of Minnesota's private colleges are entering the profession in a variety of ways. Many Minnesota teachers get into the field through traditional teacher education programs, including at Minnesota's Private Colleges, which have programs that are continually innovating to meet current needs (see the recent story, Teaching our teachers). Increasing numbers of students also seek exposure to teaching before deciding on it as a career — and sometimes they enter the field via alternative programs.
Some programs give graduates immediate teaching experience, with the chance to work toward state certification and a master's degree. Others get undergraduates into the classroom by assigning them to teach summer school, letting them decide whether to pursue the profession later.
College graduates have always been drawn to the education profession, but today's students have a unique outlook and are primed for these opportunities.
"We know that millennials have the values of civic service and giving back instilled in them; they don't care about money, but they do care about being recognized as a leader," said Daniel Sellers, executive director of Teach for America Twin Cities. "What an alternative teaching certification program does is allow them to immediately become a leader of a classroom."
The interest in teaching extends beyond a single program. John Clarkson, associate director of the career center at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, said he has seen increased interest in programs that provide a pathway into teaching in the past five years. The media emphasis on the need for more bright young teachers has driven this interest, Clarkson said, including the publicity Teach for America has recently received.
He said his career center promotes many alternative certification teaching programs, including Alliance for Catholic Education programs, which are located in high-need communities across the country and involve placing graduates as Catholic school teachers.
"These programs are especially appealing to someone who decides late in their college career that they want to join the teaching profession," Clarkson said, because finishing an education degree is almost impossible unless a student determines their interest early.
Breakthrough St. Paul: Students teaching students
Breakthrough St. Paul is one program that gives undergraduates education majors a chance to spend time with secondary students in an urban classroom before they student teach. Being an education major isn't a requirement, said Breakthrough St. Paul's executive director Emily Wingfield.
"I'd say a little more than half of them are education majors," Wingfield said. "We say you don't have to know if you want to be a teacher, but there has to be a part of you that's wondering if it's for you."
She said that 83% of aspiring teachers in Breakthrough do go on to become teachers, which is what Bethany Ames and Kirstyn Erickson plan to do. Both are Bethel University education majors; Ames' subject area is life science while Erickson's is English. As intern teachers with Breakthrough this summer, they worked five days a week with selected St. Paul Public School middle school students.
Student participants must make a six-year student commitment to the program. Beginning after sixth grade, they participate in a rigorous academic and enrichment summer program designed to prepare them for high school honors courses and ultimately college. During the school year, monthly Saturday study skill sessions are held; in high school, students receive laptop computers and support from Breakthrough tutors if they need it.
Getting accepted to Breakthrough is competitive for both middle-schoolers and intern teachers — about a third of those who apply in each group get in. For teachers in particular, the summer commitment is intense, with ten to 12 hour days of teaching, lesson planning and all-staff meetings.
For Ames, who planned her own eighth-grade genetics unit, it was worth it. "It was challenging, but the program really allows you to see the effect you can have on a students' life in six weeks. It's hard to put into words what it meant to me."
Erickson said she was drawn to Breakthrough because it provided additional teaching experience and because of the program's vision — to "help underserved students see college as part of their future," she said.
That vision is coming true. This summer marks Breakthrough's sixth year in St. Paul (it is part of a national program in 32 U.S. cities), so the first group of sixth-graders just graduated from high school. Every student in that first cohort will attend college this fall, Wingfield said. Students are heading to Stanford University, Carleton College, St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas, among other institutions. Many received significant scholarships.
Teach for America now serves Minnesota
For Daniel Sellers, applying for and joining Teach for America after his '06 graduation from Gustavus Adolphus College was not necessarily about aiming to make teaching a career — it was about a moral responsibility to try to end the achievement gap, which he calls "an atrocity."
"For me, it was about a commitment to service and community. It allowed me to live up to the values that were instilled in me at Gustavus," he said.
Sellers taught sixth grade math in eastern North Carolina for his two year assignment; while there, his students made significant strides in tests scores, he said. The position was challenging but gratifying: "Teaching is the most difficult entry level position that exists, but there is an incredible reward in teaching students and helping them grow."
In 2008 he made the difficult decision to leave that school to help start a new branch of Teach for America in the Twin Cities, where he serves as executive director. "I'm actually affecting more students in this position," Sellers said.
Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2009, Teach for America is a program that no longer needs much of an introduction. It aims to close the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students, between white students and students of color, by recruiting top college graduates to commit to teaching two years at an under-resourced school after a six-week training program. Teach for America has become extremely competitive in the past few years, as more applicants vie for 5,400 positions.
Sellers noted that even as Teach for America has become more competitive, large percentages of the graduating classes at Minnesota's Private Colleges continue to apply; Macalester College, for instance, had 12% of its 2011 graduating seniors do so. These students are also accepted at a higher rate than what is typical nationally. "The private schools (in Minnesota) are incredibly competitive in their applications."
He said having Teach for America in Minnesota for the past three years has had an extra benefit. "One of the things I'm most excited about is that Minnesota has been a huge exporter of TFA talent in the past 20 years. It's exciting that now we can recruit our best and brightest and place them here."
Alliance for Catholic Education: Service through Teaching
After attending 13 years of Catholic school and then Saint John's University, Pat Sitzer '11 discovered his post-graduation plans while at his job in the career center: spend at least two more years at a Catholic school, this time as a teacher.
"I've always been interested in teaching and I wanted to do service after graduation. I've been lucky enough to attend Catholic schools my whole life, so I wanted to give back in that way," he said.
After learning about the Alliance for Catholic Education Service through Teaching program at Notre Dame University, Sitzer applied and was accepted. He just spent six weeks teaching summer school to prepare him to teach third grade at a parochial school in New Orleans. As part of the program, he will take education classes at Notre Dame, finishing his master's degree in two years.
Though he's looking forward to the experience, he said he knows it will be difficult. "I've been told that the problems at New Orleans schools are some of the worst in the country."
So far, though, the philosophy major said he would recommend the program to others, in part because of the amount of new-teacher support built into it. "You have an on-site mentor teacher, a pastoral administrator who visits at least once a semester and an academic supervisor. I can constantly call anyone (at Notre Dame) if I need something — and I won't hesitate to do that."
The program also groups participants into living communities, so they have the shared experience of being first-year teachers. Sitzer said he's gotten support from his old place of employment as well. "I got incredible encouragement from the career center staff, the faculty residents and some members of the monastic community, as well as some former teachers I had."
Sitzer anticipates staying in the teaching profession after his commitment ends. "It's hard to say for sure as a naïve first-year teacher, but I do see myself staying in the education field."
By Erin Adler, communications associate
New data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the actual amount paid by low-income students is significantly lower than the average paid by students overall. The total cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room and board, minus grants and scholarships, averaged about $23,500 for students attending Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC) member institutions in 2009-10. For students with family incomes below $30,000, the amount was about $14,350. This lower amount is due to State Grant awards, Pell Grants, institutional grants and scholarships.
As the chart below shows, Minnesota families earning less than $30,000 are paying less for a bachelor's degree than the average family at all types of institutions. Efforts like these to support college enrollment of low-income students are important to these students — and all Minnesotans. For more information, review the research brief, "Economic Diversity: Why Enrollment of Lower-Income Students Matters."
For low-income students, what they pay matters, but what they get in return is also important. A recent Education Trust report correlates the amount paid by low-income students with four-year graduation rates. Graduating on time means that students limit their tuition outlay and enter the workforce sooner than students who take longer to graduate. In Minnesota, low-income students may pay higher net tuition at nonprofit colleges than at public institutions, but their chances of graduating in four years and starting their career are much higher.
Of students attending MPCC institutions, 65% graduate in four years. At public institutions the four-year graduation rate is 40% for University of Minnesota students and 21% for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities students. Learn more about comparing college costs.
The rate of college enrollment immediately after high school has been lower for low-income students than for high-income students since 1975. In 2009, 55% of low-income and 84% of high-income students started college right out of high school.
- Carleton College's Science Education Resource Center has received a five-year, $10 million National Science Foundation grant to improve education in Earth sciences. Read the Star Tribune story.
- Julie Plaut, executive director of Minnesota Campus Compact, is featured on the LearnmoreMN blog this month. Read her post, "Student success must be everyone's business," and consider joining the conversation by adding your comment. Sally Wherry of the Center for Postsecondary Success at the Minnesota Department of Education will be blogging in September.
- Professor Edmund Kwok visited Minnesota this summer to meet with MPCC presidents and community board members. Kwok is the former executive vice president of United International College — the liberal arts college with whom several of our colleges have a partnership agreement. He is now leading the Hong Kong International Education Development Foundation.