This is how Southern Utah University is making general ed matter: Jumpstart

Students in Southern Utah University's Jumpstart General Education program receive instruction in Zion National Park, Utah, circa 2016-18 | Photo courtesy of SUU, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University is continuing to expand its innovative approach to general education, with its Jumpstart program now in its third year, evolving and growing both in what it offers and student enrollment with faculty members finding they are learning a few things along the way as well.

SUU’s unique Jumpstart GE program allows students to earn all of their general education credits in one year through an integrated curriculum taught between two themes: Stage & Screen and Our National Parks. Students in Jumpstart have class every day, moving through their studies as a cohort, still having plenty of time to do homework, get involved with clubs and organizations and perhaps even work, according to the program webpage. At the conclusion of the two-semester program, students receive a GE certificate that will transfer to any of the Utah System of Higher Education institutions.

Following are a few Jumpstart highlights noted by the university in a recent news release: It has an 88 percent retention rate – significantly higher than what the university typically sees; students in the program are expressing a greater sense of belonging and connection to the university; it features subject integration; there is an increase in satisfaction among faculty members; and students are demonstrating ownership over their education.

A Jumpstart General Education program classroom at Southern Utah University. Cedar City, Utah, circa 2016-18 | Photo courtesy of SUU, St. George News / Cedar City News

Launched in Fall 2015 with 48 students, the university’s Jumpstart General Education program now includes two sections with 84 enrolled students. Each Jumpstart section is a one-year, 33-credit class that covers 10 courses worth of material. The program allows students to earn all of their general general ed credits through an integrated curriculum with a central theme, taught by seven professors. While a typical college course is scheduled for either a fall or spring semester, the Jumpstart program integrates the courses over both semesters.

“You have to understand that the structure of the typical college or university is not such that it lines up well to pull off something like Jumpstart,” said Dr. John Taylor, Jumpstart program director and assistant dean for integrative learning at SUU.

The format may be confusing for faculty and administrators and the logistics of offering an educational experience like Jumpstart can strain the traditional systems of higher education. But SUU has recognized those obstacles and adapted to the unique needs of the program.

One large change that occurred this year was the removal of the math requirement included in previous years.

“That one little tweak to the system helped a ton and it is probably the biggest change we made this year,” Taylor said. “More and more of our incoming freshmen are coming to us with varying needs mathematically. Some students may need remedial work, while others have already completed calculus in high school.”

So now, students are given time in the spring to complete the math portion of their general education, allowing them to take courses that meet their individual needs.

Another change in the program this year had to do with how grades are assigned in the yearlong program. Previously, students were assigned temporary grades indicated by a “T” until their year program was completed and they received final grades. Many organizations outside of SUU didn’t understand the process. The NCAA ruled in the first year that Jumpstart students were ineligible to play sports because they didn’t have a GPA for the first semester.

“I wrote a lot of letters that first year to different organizations explaining the Jumpstart program and letting them know that the student was in good standing,” Taylor said. “Now we assign grades at the end of fall semester and we clearly inform the students that the grades will change in the spring based on their overall performance.”

Students in Southern Utah University’s Jumpstart General Education program receive instruction from program director John Taylor on campus in Cedar City, Utah, circa 2016-18 | Photo courtesy of SUU, St. George News / Cedar City News

These changes might be seen as hurdles the program administrators have addressed given Jumpstart’s unique nature. Taylor said he can see why a lot of schools don’t do it, it’s hard work.

Nonetheless, faculty members participating in the program deliver some enthusiastic reviews and report their own lessons learned.

“One of my concerns about Jumpstart was the sheer amount of work that goes into this kind of project,” Dr. Kris Phillips, assistant professor of philosophy said. “I’m teaching in a way that relies not only on my own expertise but requires me to adjust my work to fit into a coherent narrative with seven other faculty, each of whom have their own expertise, goals, and approaches. But Jumpstart allows me the opportunity to learn right along with my students. I have been able to incorporate material from biology, physics and theater into my own courses outside of Jumpstart. It’s really fun!”

“Jumpstart is one of the most innovative things I have had the opportunity to participate in as a faculty member,” Bill Heyborne, associate professor of biology said. “The opportunity to work with a talented group of faculty, from across campus, has been a really exciting experience. Watching my colleagues work has made me a better teacher and given me so many great ideas for improving my own practice.”

Students have formed lasting friendships as they learn, eat, camp, travel and grow with each other while participating in the program.

“General education is meant to build our character and build a solid foundation for us,” Andrew Hugentobler, a freshman from Moab, said. “I feel that Jumpstart not only does this, but helps make this foundation relevant, interesting, and applicable in my own life. Jumpstart has been a very unique and special experience for me.”

“I absolutely love Jumpstart and the people I get to be with everyday,” Cassidy Tueller, a freshman exercise science major from Hyde Park, said. “In Jumpstart they show the connects between each class that we are taking and that they all go together in some way or another. I have really enjoyed being able to see those connections and use it in my daily life to make connections with things I am learn to things around me.”

Plans are in play to expand the program further next year, adding another section along with smaller versions called Mini-Jumpstarts, Taylor said, applying the Jumpstart model to other fields of study that may be underserved by their current models.

“We’re looking at doing some for aviation, psychology, biology and chemistry students,” he said.

 

The administration is firmly behind the Jumpstart program.

“We want the highest graduation rate we can possibly muster because our students deserve it,” SUU President Scott L Wyatt said. “We think that Jumpstart GE is the best way to fully support our incoming students and tell them, ‘Welcome to SUU. We care about you and your future.’”

 

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