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April 25, 2023 | Leadership insights

How Johns Hopkins is Improving Undergraduate Education

In 2017, Johns Hopkins University — which prides itself on being the United States first research university — knew that it needed to take a step back and re-evaluate how the institution will serve and prepare undergraduate students over the next decade. As such, JHU established the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) to evaluate and reform the university’s undergraduate and general education curriculum. 

What is the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2)?

The Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) was a commission convened by President Daniels and Provost Kumar that consisted of nearly 30 individuals including faculty, staff, undergraduate students, and alumni. Its mission was to improve upon the successes of the first appointed Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and their report published 15 years prior in 2003, now through a 21st century lens to ensure students remain prepared for future success. 

What challenges in undergraduate education did CUE2 tackle?

In a world where information is ubiquitous, technology undergirds nearly everything, and society has placed greater focus on the value of post-secondary education, CUE2 used these questions to begin its efforts.

  • How can we support and encourage students to define their own education by allowing them to explore and pursue their own interests?
  • How can we create a holistic curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular experience?
  • How can we develop the pedagogy and infrastructure needed to support these objectives?

The commission needed to first, interpret the current mission of undergraduate education in the 21st century and second, design a new model and delivery of education that will serve Hopkins students now and into the future.

How did CUE2 tackle these challenges?

The commission began by questioning the assumptions and perspectives behind traditional models of education and approaches. As such, CUE2 was given the autonomy to be ambitious with our recommendations. Over the course of three years, the Commission analyzed and evaluated:

  • Best practices at peer institutions
  • Recommendations from external higher education experts
  • Relevant institutional data
  • Scholarly literature
  • Community feedback

These sources were consumed through multiple channels including town halls, focus groups and suggestions/feedback through email. The commission also reviewed various forms of learning assessment and other institutional data relevant to the initiative. The deliberations of the committee culminated in a draft report that was shared with the Hopkins community in early 2020. Relevant feedback was incorporated into the final report, which was released in November 2020.

Findings: CUE2 Report Recommendations

  1. A redesign of the undergraduate curriculum to provide foundational abilities for lifelong learning. These include high-touch and impactful activities that enable meaningful experiences, clearly defined, skills-driven outcomes and integration of curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular learning.
  2. Increased flexibility of the major requirements where needed to enable intellectual exploration.
  3. Enable professional school faculty to teach undergraduates more easily and often and facilitate the enrollment of undergraduates in our professional schools.
  4. Provide students with an integrated partnership of faculty mentors, staff advisors, and life design counselors.
  5. Improve course-based learning assessment methods and encourage grading policies that assess student performance relative to well-articulated academic standards.
  6. Establish a new system for the assessment of teaching and mentoring by faculty.

How did Johns Hopkins University implement these recommendations?

JHU’s CUE2 implementation, led by vice deans Bertrand Garcia-Moreno and Erin Rowe (Krieger School of Arts and Sciences) and Michael Falk (Whiting School of Engineering), focuses on executing and/or improving in the following 8 areas:

  • First-Year Seminars — Get students started on the same page and establish faculty mentorship for all incoming students
  • Flexible education — Enable exploration by making major requirements more flexible
  • Foundational abilities — Ensure undergraduate curriculum is teaching students the skills needed to succeed long-term
  • One university — Encourage and enable students to enroll in JHU’s professional schools to ensure they have full access to the resources JHU offers
  • Integrated learning — Recognize, validate, and document learning achieved through co-curricular experiences outside of the traditional classroom and develop clear policies for those processes. The JHU Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR) will be an important vehicle for this work. 
  • The Hopkins Semester — For those in their junior and senior years at JHU, allow them the choice to participate in an immersive, mentored summer semester to reinforce their learning.  Student learning achieved in the Hopkins Semester should be captured in the JHU CLR. 
  • Mentoring and advising — Provide each undergraduate student an integrated partnership of faculty mentors, staff advisors, and life design counselors to support their learning journey
  • Assessment of teaching and learning — Pivot to a more individual, feedback-driven approach to assessment that provides the right tools for success and ensures both faculty and students can clearly articulate their learnings. 

CUE2’s Impact on the Future of Our Institution

Through implementation of the CUE2 recommendations, John Hopkins University is committing the resources necessary to prepare learners for the challenges they will face as new leaders in this modern world. As a higher education leader, I was struck by the courage and tenacity each of the commission members demonstrated in tackling the difficult questions associated with undergraduate curricular review. The process and successful outcome reinforced for me the power of collective and collaborative decision-making, a process wherein everyone — staff, faculty, and students — felt ownership of the final CUE2 Report.

[NOTE: Originally published 6/1/2021. Last updated 4/25/2023.]

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