Honors College 2.0 is a new plan intended to help remedy the enrollment issues that St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) is facing by refocusing the student experience on career preparedness. Michael Wick, provost and dean of faculty, as well as Leonard Brown, dean of students, came before the Student Government Association (SGA) meeting on Jan. 23 to help students become aware of the administration’s plan and to answer questions about it.
Since 2009, enrollment has dropped from 1,852 students to 1,455 students, and according to Brown, this decline hurts the institution’s long-term prospects. Brown and Wick told SGA that, based on marketing information and focus groups conducted by the administration, they have determined that what potential applicants care about before entering college is that the institution can prepare them for a career.
Honors College 2.0, which SMCM plans to test later this semester, and if all goes well fully roll out at the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester, has several components.
According to Brown and Wick’s presentation, the Honors College 2.0 plan is to put more emphasis on soft skills and professional skills so that students will be able to gain entry-level positions after college.
The two administrators continue to explain that in order to ensure preparedness, the administration plans to eventually require that all incoming first-years take a new credit-bearing course plan throughout their time at SMCM. This course plan, according to the presentation, will include micro-internships defined currently by the SMCM career center as one to two days of job shadowing experience, resume development and a utilization of the SMCM alumni network. Brown and Wick explained that this change will add an additional eight-credit requirement for students; however, the total number of credits needed to graduate will stay the same at 128 credits.
Wick tried to calm concerns he assumed students would have about this addition to the curriculum, stating that the new course load will not be excessive and that it will be flexible for students. Brown and Wick also emphasized that this is still a work in progress and that things may change.
After the presentation Brown and Wick answered questions from those in attendance. Many of the queries revolved around the flexibility of this new curriculum. A concern that resurfaced several times was whether students who already had an internship in high school or were required to take an internship as part of their major would have to do another one. Brown and Wick also indicated that it would not be necessary to have more than one internship and that the president of the College wants the program to be flexible for this very reason.
Another representative asked if students who plan to graduate early or transfer students would be slowed down by this curriculum. Wick said that this new curriculum is not meant to slow graduation down and went on to state that there was a “charge to us to make certain whatever we come up with will not delay graduation.”
An additional representative asked how students with higher than average workloads would cope with adding this curriculum. Wick answered by saying that paid internships could take the place of jobs and that students could apply for internships over the summer or winter. He also said that students could take these easier classes along with their harder classes to lighten their workload.
In response to another question related to the flexibility of this initiative, a student inquired about what will happen to students who change their major or are undecided. Brown responded by saying that the career plan is just there so that students can begin the process of thinking about what they want to do after college. He went on to reaffirm that this does not lock students in, but instead prompts them to be intentional.
Another student was concerned that micro-internships themselves were a waste of time, stating that the short experience does not give an accurate impression of a career field.
Additional questions were asked about how affordable this new initiative would be for some students. Two students took issue with the internships because some cost money and other require transportation which could be prohibitive for low-income students. Dean Brown answered that they would figure it out through a combination of alumni, grants and financial support. Provost Wick went on to add that ideally all internships will be paid internships at competitive wages provided by the College or the institution.
When asked by a student why there was only one student in the advisory group for Honors College 2.0., Brown answered that there was “no particular reason.” He went on to say that based on the size of the group and the type of input that they were looking for the college only needed one student advisor. He added that the administration will get feedback from students as they are taking the courses and will change the program based on student reactions and evaluations.
Near the end of the question section, one representative stated that there are more important things that the administration should be focusing on like fixing the class add/drop system and being more responsive to student feedback. She said that no one she knows cares about this, and finished by saying that in her experience “the administration does not listen to students.”
Another student inquired about why, if it is still such a work in progress, the administration is rolling out its plan in a manner that was described by the student as “rapidly.” This comment was followed by that of a student who felt that the College is commodifying students to get enrollment up. He was worried that this focus on profit would be detrimental to the learning environment at SMCM.
Such a critique was echoed by other students. One student stated that he was concerned that this new program would scare off more students than it would attract.
In a follow-up meeting with The Point News, Dean Brown stated that the new curriculum is only a part of the greater Honors College 2.0 plan. According to Brown, the College will also be advertising itself more and undertaking additional measures to make itself more attractive.
Brown likewise addressed the aforementioned concerns about the cost of student internships. He told The Point News that, especially for low-income students, supplemental funds and on-campus options would be made available so that every student can participate in this initiative.
Brown told The Point News he was encouraged by the participation and how interested students were about this new program.
SGA President Whittni Pickens, ‘18 echoed the sentiments of Dean Brown when she told The Point News “We need to keep the conversation going. Both sides need to compromise, the administrations and the students.”