Westmont garden

Over the past decade GPAs have been rising around the nation. One reason, according to researchers, is the growing competition among colleges to place students in top graduate schools, internships or jobs. Faculty across the nation are increasingly conscious that students often need very strong GPAs to compete with graduates from other schools for post-baccalaureate opportunities. That pressure has steadily and subtly pushed undergraduate grades higher.

The Senate has changed the definition of an academic credit. Previously, the policy stated that a credit was equal to “classroom instruction comprising 700 minutes per term, and approximately twice that amount of time of student work outside of class.” The new policy requires “at least three hours of work each week over the period of the 15-week instructional term, inclusive of exams, individual work, and in-course instructional time.” The revised definition gives greater elasticity in how the professor divides the course between intellectual work and “seat time,” while trying to preserve our current class schedule.

Mayterm enrollments have dipped in the past couple years. Total tuition revenues have fallen about 30%, as the number of adequately enrolled sections has fallen from 21 to 13. We surveyed the courses taken elsewhere during the summer of 2014 by Westmont students (Elementary Spanish and classes satisfying the “Exploring the Physical Sciences” requirement were the most commonly transferred credits from summer, followed by Introduction to Statistics, United States History, and General Psychology). As a result, we are endeavoring to add a few new sections that might capture more interest in taking credits at Westmont during May. The tuition rate of a Mayterm credit has also been cut by about 25% in an attempt to provide greater incentives to stay for May.

As director of institutional research, Bill has shared some key data from 2013-2014 with the Senate in his annual report on "Academic Resource Utilization." Six departments account for more than 60% of the majors. Kinesiology remains our largest major, enrolling 14% of the student body. The major has nearly tripled since 2003, when it represented about 5% of the student population. Kinesiology is followed closely by Economics and Business (12%). The next four largest departments—Biology, Communication Studies, English and Pyschology—each enroll roughly 9% of all students.

Michael Shasberger, whose teaching duties include leading the choir and the orchestra, can claim the prize for the highest average student count per class (58). That's followed by Tremper Longman (46), Holly Beers (44), Maurice Lee (33), Paul Morgan (33), Bruce Fisk (28), Patti Hunter (28), Jeff Schloss (28), Greg Spencer (28), and Dave Wolf (28). Religious Studies maintains the highest average course (29), followed by Economics and Business (24), Philosophy (23), Kinesiology (22), and History (22). The four lowest are Education (13), Computer Science (12), Modern Languages (10), and Theatre Arts (9).

Three out of five classes at Westmont (60%) enroll 19 students or fewer; it's nearly four out of five (78%) at the upper-division level. There are some courses over 50, but they represent less than 3% of the total classes offered at the college. As points of comparisons, the College Board for 2014 reports that Williams (the top-ranked liberal arts college by US News and World Report) has 71% under 20, and 3% over 50. UCLA has 50% under 20, and 22% over 50. Biola has 48% under 20, and 6% over 50.

The Senate has started to discuss its “track of work” under the new strategic map. Among the projects that most intrigue the Senate is a teaching/learning center that synthesizes and expands some of the things that we are now doing to enrich pedagogy. Faculty are interested in more advice about experiential learning and high-impact teaching strategies. Edee Schulze has joined us on a couple occasions to brainstorm about academic and co-curricular partnership. Some of the ideas that have commanded immediate attention are the possibility of adding an academic component to Emmaus Road, developing a fuller and better integrated approach to advising and life planning, and strengthening our program for first-year students prior to, or shortly after, the first days of class. That might include some other experiential learning opportunities besides Innoculum.

Tori IppolitoThis year we are pleased to have a student representative, Tori Ippolito (photo), serving on the Senate. She brought several issues from the Westmont College Student Association for us to consider. Three that we have chosen to focus on are PEA credits for athletes, the possibility of taking two writing intensive courses in one’s major, and greater attention by the academic program to preparing students for careers.

Much of the Senate’s attention has been given to some of the assessment and WASC activities. We have reviewed plans for the Information Literacy ILO assessment with Molly Riley this year, and had early discussions of an approach to assessing Quantitative Reasoning next year. The Senate discussed Jim Taylor’s report and recommendations for Critical Thinking, and will be hosting a series of workshops in the next 6-8 months to encourage some new strategies and assignments to help address some of the areas where our students did not perform as well as we had hoped on last year’s assessment.

As we continue work on our institutional self-study, it is worth noting that our accrediting commission has changed its name. Due to government regulations, the name “Western Association of Schools and Colleges” cannot apply to a commission overseeing both K-12 schools and postsecondary schools. So our new commission is entitled the “WASC Senior College and University Commission” (WSCUC). It is still appropriate to refer colloquially to our accrediting body as “WASC,” although written references to the commission will now use the acronym “WSCUC.”