For one college, re-engineering faculty workloads also benefitted students

Shift in curriculum supports both faculty and undergraduate research

Faculty have long struggled to balance teaching and research obligations—but The College of New Jersey's new "high impact" curriculum may have solved the evergreen issue, giving faculty more time for their research while also immersing undergraduates in rigorous, hands-on learning, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Faculty members often feel squeezed by the range of demands on their time. According to a recent study by Boise State University, professors have much less time to do research than either they or their departments would prefer. Many feel overburdened by teaching responsibilities and inadequately compensated for their effort.

At the same time, other recent studies have concluded that strong professor-mentor relationships play a significant role in student success—even doubling the chances that students feel engaged with their work and thrive overall.

In 2003, The College of New Jersey decided to take a dramatic step toward solving that dilemma. The administration radically redesigned their curriculum to prioritize fewer, but higher-impact, courses for both instructors and students—while setting aside dedicated time for faculty research.

Adjusting the curriculum

Before the transition, each instructor was expected to teach four courses per semester and students were expected to take five courses per semester.

Under the new model, professors average only three courses, or 18 weighted hours, per semester. Many courses are now more rigorous and include more opportunities for hands-on research, even for undergraduates. Professors are also given six weighted hours for their own research. Finally, faculty members can receive up to three weighted hours of release time in exchange for leading specialized "independent study" courses or undertaking extra research.

Students' scheduled dropped to four classes per semester, each bearing one additional credit to reflect the more demanding coursework.

Professors satisfied and students thriving

The results have been positive. Not only are professors largely satisfied, but students are flourishing under the "research immersion" experience the college now offers them. The college's new faculty-friendly environment has also helped with recruiting and faculty satisfaction, says Anna Norvell, associate professor of biology and president of the faculty senate, because "faculty see that the college supports faculty and students working meaningfully together." She further explains that professors feel better compensated for their time, and that the new model "gives credit where credit is due."

Matthew Bender, an associate professor of history and director of the international studies program, teaches a course that requires students to develop an oral history of Hurricane Sandy survivors. "This is a campus where we have been really good at training students through experience" he says, adding "it gives a much more realistic impression about what the disciplines really are."

The university says the focus on undergraduate research has paid off, with many students going on to enroll in competitive graduate programs for which they feel well prepared (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 10/16).

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