In the third part of a series on IC 20/20, The Ithacan takes a look at the graduate and honors programs highlighted in the 10-year strategic plan.
While some aspects of Ithaca College’s Integrative Core Curriculum have been approved by the Academic Policy Committee, graduate and Honors Programs initiatives are still in the developing stages.
Under the college’s IC 20/20 plan, the graduate studies program has been made a priority for both expansion and recognition.
The IC 20/20 Final Plan includes an initiative for integrative graduate programs, specifically noting the college’s commitment to “continue to find opportunities to provide new graduate degrees that are necessary for entry into professional fields for which IC has undergraduate majors.” The document also calls for an expansion of education offered at the college “by developing prototypes of graduate certificates or degree programs valued by professionals whose advancement depends on ability to move across standard professional boundaries and skill sets.”
Rob Gearhart, associate dean of graduate and professional studies, said the development of the graduate program would fit into the college’s IC 20/20 commitment to integrative learning.
“Initiate seven — integrative graduate education — talks about moving across standard professional boundaries and skill sets to bring different disciplines together in a more focused advanced study, which would be graduate education,” Gearhart said.
Gregory Woodward, music school dean, former provost and future president of Carthage College, was the first full-time graduate dean.
“When I became graduate dean there really hadn’t been a voice at the table for graduate studies,” Woodward said.
When the college was set to renew its Middle States accreditation for the master’s program, it was suggested that it build its program by considering the way students are embedded in the culture of the college.
“In the four years I worked on that we did double enrollment of the graduate program, which was significant,” Woodward said. “We added about nine or 10 new degrees to the graduate program, and we started a number of events which made the graduate students feel like they belonged more to the college.”
These immersion events included a graduate-specific orientation session, a separate graduation ceremony, an academic symposium and various social events. Woodward said these efforts will be continued and built upon under the guidance of the IC 20/20 plan.
“I would say that from that time through the present, the graduate programs have taken a more important position in the priorities and hierarchy of the college,” he said.
One aspect of graduate studies the college plans to build upon is the professional certificate program, which has seen growth in colleges and universities nationally. Certificate programs are non-credit-bearing professional development programs commonly offered online that assist professionals in acquiring new skill sets to help further their careers.
“We’ve had, for about five years now, online professional certificate programs, one in strategic communication management, another one in performance improvement management, one in sustainability leadership, and these are non-credit,” Gearhart said. “They’re really professional development opportunities that are delivered fully online.”
The inclusion of these programs allows for the college to reach beyond its own community. Gearhart noted the initial development of the certificate programs were designed with college alumni in mind. However, the college has found that there are more non-Ithaca College alumni participating in these programs.
“Delivering these online is a great way to share the expertise that Ithaca College has, but also create a new network of professionals out there who can benefit from that Ithaca College expertise,” Gearhart said. “We’ve really exposed the college to a whole new population of people who had never had any connection to Ithaca College.”
The Honors Program is also revamping its curriculum with changes to its core requirements.
As outlined in IC 20/20’s 11th initiative, in addition to the curriculum revisions, the Honors Program, which is housed in the School of Humanities and Sciences, will continue to open its doors to the entire student body.
The program has been all-college inclusive for four years already, Robert Sullivan, director of the program, said.
The program is by invitation only for incoming students, about 100 per class. It is designed as a minor, with 19 credits of interdisciplinary seminars. There are currently 430 students in the program, representing more than 70 majors across all schools at the college. The program is still listed under Humanities and Sciences on the website.
Sullivan said he thinks this initiative in the IC 20/20 plan will expand the Honors Program further and give it a larger platform on campus.
Changes to the program will also “Increase the ability of our students to compete effectively for Fulbright, Goldwater and Jefferson Fellowships, as well as other high-profile post-baccalaureate awards,” according to the initiative document.
Nazareth College, which is on the list of comparable institutions to Ithaca College and has a similar Honors Program, includes an 18-credit minor. Marjorie Roth, director of Nazareth’s Honors Program, said one difference in Nazareth’s program is a more intensive, independent research project. However, IC 20/20 is already poised to fill this gap with more experiential learning and service requirements for honors students.
Sullivan said the new model is still in the planning stages, but will generally lower the credit load and add new features outside of a classroom setting.
The IC 20/20 plan highlights five expectations for honors students, including academic excellence. However, Sullivan said other requirements will include being a “global citizen” — for instance, participating in a study abroad program, attending an international conference or taking a seminar that has a global perspective. Engaging in the cultural life of the college will also be an expectation, such as attending lectures and other programs on campus.
Kevin Knudson, director of the Honors Program at the University of Florida, argued in an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that an Honors Program should be a challenge for students rather than “concierge services.”
“Many students view college simply as a means to an end and are not especially engaged in the educational process,” he wrote. Because of this, there is a need for Honors Programs that challenge students who are seeking more from their collegiate experience, and colleges should meet that need, he wrote.
Cindy Hill, executive director of the National Collegiate Honors Council, said there is no single national honors model, but there is a trend of moving honors beyond the classroom.
“Honors really emphasizes teaching and learning, so it sounds to me like Ithaca is doing exactly what they should be doing to expand their Honors Program to make it more comprehensive to develop the whole person, the whole student,” Hill said.
Sullivan hopes the changes to the program will not only enhance student experience, but also add to the college’s overall academic image.
“IC 20/20 is going to do a lot of things for Honors, in a variety of ways,” he said. “We’ve been identified from the beginning as being one of the central goals of IC 20/20 under the heading of improving Ithaca College’s academic standing.”