Culver-Stockton College remodels its academic year

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 | 5:42 p.m. CDT

 ST. LOUIS - Many colleges advocate learning by experience. Starting this fall, students at Culver-Stockton College will have a chance to do it every semester, getting out of the classroom and into the real world.

The college in northeast Missouri is revamping its academic year to give every student three-week windows for intensive study with more emphasis on field trips, study abroad and internships.

Each semester under the program called EXP@CSC, students will begin with 12 weeks of traditional classes. But the final three weeks of both the fall and spring semester will focus on one topic.

Students often will help design that three-week training, which may take place on or off campus. The college will provide vouchers of $500 per year. The $500 vouchers can accumulate so, for example, a freshman who wants to study abroad can save the vouchers and use all of them his senior year.

Many students have already made plans.

A criminal justice student will take a class with field trips to courtrooms and justice centers. A theater major will visit Turkey and do a presentation on classical Greek theater. A history major who wants to know more about the Civil War can fashion a course that includes visits to famous battlefields.

"I'm absolutely certain that the education they'll get is one they couldn't get anywhere else," said William Fox, president of the 900-student college in Canton, about 30 miles south of the Iowa border.

Colleges and universities have long advocated learning through experience, including internships, community-based education, service projects and studying abroad, said Richard Ekman, president of the Washington-based Council of Independent Colleges. Some block schedule to allow students to focus on one area of study at a time, or structure the school year to allow time for intensive, hands-on courses of study.

But Ekman said Culver-Stockton's program is unique because it builds in a three-week window for experiential education every academic semester.

Since 1970, Colorado College in Colorado Springs has used a block plan. Students pursue one field of study for 3 1/2 weeks, with eight blocks of time in a school year. Associate Dean of Faculty Jeff Noblett said the system works well for students who like to focus on one thing at a time.

He noted the Culver-Stockton approach is a hybrid of traditional and block plan scheduling.

"It's not the same old, same old. Hats off to them," he said.

Culver-Stockton students have some concerns, though. Some worry that it will be harder to get all their requirements completed to graduate on time. Others wonder about the impact on sports and other extracurricular activities. What happens when teammates or club members leave for weeks at a time?

Fox said those concerns have been addressed. Students shouldn't have difficulties getting the necessary credit hours completed, he said; and the intensive three-week classes will end in the afternoon, so students will have time to participate in other activities.

Fox said the hope is that the new approach will tie study to real-life applications.

At Culver-Stockton, tuition, room and board are about $29,000 annually. About a third of the students are from families with an income of less than $40,000 a year, and almost all its students receive financial aid. More than 40 percent of students are from the first generation of their family to earn a college degree.

Students and their families want to know they'll receive an education that will serve them well after graduation, Fox said.

He said the new structure also will allow students time to complete internships, to shadow professionals to get real experience in their field.

"We wanted to make the liberal arts more exiting, more vivid and also more practical," Fox said.

Senior Daniel Coffman, 21, from Eldridge, Iowa, plans to go to Turkey during the three-week session at the end of the fall semester, with a small group of students and a teacher.

He said they'll study where eastern and western cultures meet, and each student will also give a presentation. As a musical theater major, Coffman plans to talk about elements of ancient Greek theater, including an on-stage performance.

Coffman, who works seasonally for the entertainment department of the Walt Disney Corp., said real-world experiences have made a big difference already for him as a performer, from learning how to best present his strengths to getting a sense for the sheer numbers of people who show up at an open audition. He thinks the new program's focus on real experiences will be a benefit.

While he'll study in Turkey, he also wants to watch the people, to see how they move and interact, information that could help him develop different characters. That, he said, would help "expand my horizons as a performer."



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