Freshman experience at UNLV to change with redesigned curriculum


Attention college-bound high school seniors: Everything about how freshmen make their way through UNLV is about to change.

"I can't wait for the orientation for our incoming class next year," said Carl Reiber, a biology professor who is helping to rewrite and implement the university's new general education requirements. "I think what we've adopted is of national quality."

Typically, an incoming freshman class at UNLV is about 3,000 students. For close to a decade, the university has been working on rewriting the curriculum those new students must take.

Following national trends, the curriculum was designed to help students get better acquainted with freshman college life and to better understand what will be expected of them.

Now it's done and will go into effect in the fall of 2012. All new freshmen and some transfer students will be required to follow the new rules.

"If a student's already enrolled, not much will change for them," Reiber said.

Freshmen will be required to take a First Year Experience course, which many universities have implemented. Content will vary depending on a student's major.

There is substantial agreement that such courses help students learn more and improve retention and graduation rates, a goal not only at UNLV but at every college and university in the state.

The first-year course will focus on developing critical thinking and communications skills and on multicultural or global awareness.

Unlike many universities that have imposed similar requirements, UNLV will require a Second Year Experience course also, a Milestone Course and what is called a Culminating Experience.

All the courses will be designed to be sequential. Themes will emphasize lifelong learning, critical thinking, communication skills, global awareness and citizenship or ethics.

They each will include requirements, such as a certain number of pages of reading and writing. There will be constant assessment and modifications, if necessary, Reiber said.

The purpose is to help students get used to college life, to know what will be expected of them, and to make sure they are ready for what is next before they get there, rather than simply hoping they cope on their own.

"As a society, we can't afford to do that anymore," Reiber said. "We are an intellectually based society now."

Gone are the days when a college education was a luxury, he said. More and more people will need that education in today's world.

Students generally will move through the courses as a unit, with majors from each college taking the same course most of the time.

As they move through college, they should see many of the same people in their classes. The theory is that this will make students like college more, which encourages them to stay and finish their degrees.

"I think it's good for students," said Sarah Saenz, the undergraduate student body president at UNLV. "A lot of students are looking for that college atmosphere."

She said UNLV is different from a lot of universities in that it is largely a commuter campus. Fewer than 10 percent of its students live on campus, and many students do not hang out there when they're not in class.

"I hope it brings a sense of interaction, meeting new friends," she said.

Greg Brown, chairman of the Faculty Senate, which approved the new requirements this month, said the change puts UNLV on record as saying undergraduates will have a coherent path toward a degree, will learn the skills they need to be successful in school, will be put in small classes with intense faculty involvement and will understand what they're doing.

"The goal is to help them understand that those skills are something they're supposed to be getting out of every course."

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

 

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