We envision a higher education landscape where the majority of Community College students are both capable of and encouraged to complete at least six credit hours of core-curriculum course work focused on the discussion-based study of transformative texts, and to increase by 25% the number of students who transfer from Community Colleges to four-year institutions in pursuit of bachelor degrees in humanities disciplines by 2035.
Why Community Colleges?
We believe that meaningfully engaging with the humanities is transformative – both on a personal level, and culturally. Confronting transformative texts, learning from them, and questioning them while allowing them to question us, enables us to think both more constructively and more critically about our world. In faculty guided discussion-based classrooms, students of all backgrounds can undertake the adventure of encountering transformative texts directly. Our experience with these courses has convinced us that through the implementation of discussion-based learning, students become active collaborators in their own education. They learn to approach difficult texts and complex issues thoughtfully. They find their voices in classes where they are listened to respectfully and encouraged to engage across various differences, where they learn to work with their peers to form a community of inquiry where everyone’s voice matters in a collaborative search for truth. This collaboration of students in discussion-based courses mirrors the civic participation of citizens in a functioning democratic society. It is this education that The Great Questions Foundation aspires to bring community college students across the nation.
Currently, about 44% of undergraduates nationwide are enrolled in public two-year institutions, and among all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution, 49% had been enrolled in a two-year institution sometime within the past ten years. In some large states like California , Florida, and Texas, the percentages are much higher: in these states the percentage of former community college students among bachelors earners are 61%, 64% and 75%, respectively. More Given that a student’s exposure to general education is often during the first two years of higher education, strengthening our vision of the humanities at community colleges is essential. It is impossible to transform general education in the United States meaningfully without the inclusion and leadership of Community College faculty.
Our vision focuses most of all on empowering teaching faculty, who are responsible for shaping and delivering curricula, and whose passion brings syllabi to life in the classroom. We seek to engage directly with and to support and mentor Community College faculty in the refocusing of high-enrollment, required general education courses around the discussion-based study of transformative texts that have been identified by Community College faculty as particularly suitable for early academic engagement. There are several elements of our vision: the development of a list of core transformative texts identified by faculty representatives from 10 different institutions as appropriate for the community college classroom, along with a website allowing faculty to easily explore and sort these texts according to subject matter, questions raised, chronology, geography, etc and showcasing gen ed syllabi using core transformative texts; the establishment of a summer institute at St. John’s College, focusing both on building familiarity with these texts and on experience and training in discussion-based pedagogy; and the development of a structure to provide ongoing support for the faculty who have attended the institute as they lead efforts on their home campuses to redesign high-enrollment courses that fulfill core curriculum/general education requirements at their specific institutions. We envision that at least 50% of courses redesigned through these efforts focus on the discussion-based study of transformative texts from the list we create. We aspire to convene annual conferences at which faculty who have participated in the program gather to compare approaches and syllabi, strategize about increasing impact, consider and update the website and list of core transformative texts based upon classroom experience.