Committee finds academic improvement

The committee charged with assessing reform to Yale’s curriculum has found it difficult to measure the effects of the 2005 changes to academic requirements, but its findings point toward significant positive change.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the Committee on Yale College Education is nearly done with its report, but will delay the completion of the roughly 60 page document, which was originally slated for completion this April, until late in the summer. Committee members will present some of their analysis at a May 5 faculty meeting, and found, among other things, that undergraduates’ writing usually improves over the course of four years at Yale, and that the number of students who go abroad has grown since the 2003-’04 academic year.

Overall, Miller said she believes the 2005 alterations to academic requirements and adjustments to other aspects of undergraduate education have been enormously successful.

“I don’t think there has been a time when changes have been so significant and so effective,” Miller said. “There’s been an incredible change in Yale undergraduate education.”

The results of the 2003 committee’s recommendations include the creation of the International Summer Award, which funds a summer abroad for each student on financial aid, a more than two-fold increase in freshman seminars and a growth in the number of tutors for subjects such as writing and science, said Judith Hackman, associate dean of Yale College and convener of the current committee.

Miller said with only the classes of 2009 and 2010 as data, the full effects of the new requirements are not yet apparent, but she believes writing and quantitative reasoning skills “underpin an educated citizenry in the 21st century.”

The ISA, in particular, has proved a “strong investment,” said Jane Edwards, Yale College associate dean and dean of international and professional experience. The number of undergraduate students who go abroad has increased from 550 in the 2003-’04 academic year to 1,397 in 2009-’10.

Still, Hackman said that the effects of some of the most significant changes, such as the addition of the quantitative reasoning and writing requirements, are hard to measure.

“We think it has a positive effect,” Hackman said, “but is students’ writing better right now? Is students’ quantitative reasoning better right now? I don’t think there’s any way to effectively measure that right now.”

She added that the committee hopes Yale can develop better ways to evaluate students’ academic experiences.

Of students in the classes of 2003-’08, who were not affected by the changes in distributional requirements, about one-third took one or fewer courses that would have qualified as quantitative reasoning courses, Hackman said. Now, all students must take at least two quantitative reasoning courses.

The new writing requirement appears to have had less of an effect on the way students devise their schedules: with the new rule, the number of students who take introductory writing courses has increased only slightly, from 83 percent to 85 percent.

The committee had a number of sub-committees exploring the effects of different requirements. The sub-committee devoted to writing read essays of freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the class of 2009 and senior essays from the class of 2010, Hackman said, but did not compare writing samples from classes before and after the addition of the writing requirement. They found that for most students, the quality of writing improves over the years, especially among those who entered Yale at a comparatively low writing level. Hackman said it appears that writing is being taught effectively.

She added that the committee hopes to make sure that there are enough sections of English 114 — an introductory writing course — for all interested students because studies suggest that students who take this course show particular improvement. The committee also found that students often write better about their own fields, she said, and believes Yale could benefit from offering more writing courses in subjects other than English.

Before the recommendations of the 2003 CYCE report were implemented, courses were grouped into four categories: language and literature, humanities, social sciences and sciences. Now, there are a total of three skills — language, quantitative reasoning and writing — and three subject areas — humanities, social sciences and sciences.

More students surpass the minimum number of humanities and social sciences courses than quantitative reasoning and science courses, Hackman said.

Four students interviewed said the preference for humanities and social sciences courses comes as no surprise.

“It’s not the ‘Yale Technical Institute,’” Jade Nicholson ’14 said. “People come here more for the humanities courses than the quantitative reasoning courses.”

Miller also said more students enroll in art courses than before the changes, adding that she hopes Yale will seek to offer more performing arts courses in the future. Students have many extracurricular opportunities to join singing groups or participate in shows, but she said she thinks the addition of courses could complement that rich extracurricular atmosphere.

Keiji Ishiguri ’11, a music major who sings and plays the piano, said he thinks many instrumentalists and singers would like to take more performance classes for credit.

The faculty will discuss the full report after it is finished at another faculty meeting next fall, Miller said.

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