What’s different about college these days?
By Marion Blackburn
graduated from ECU a few years ago (we’re not counting how many) and now your child or a nephew or the kid across the street is heading to campus. You want to share some of your wisdom, but you’re wondering: How has college changed? English, history and biology ... college must be about the same, right? Well, not exactly. Here is a rundown of the new academic landscape and how it differs from the student experience of a generation ago. The foundation’s the same:
You’ll certainly find recognizable courses like chemistry, art history and political science, especially during the first two years. These courses reflect the liberal arts approach that is vital to becoming a fully educated individual and are called the Foundations Curriculum.
“These are the familiar liberal arts courses we’ve always required, such as English, history, math and art,” said Linner W. Griffin, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “But the courses have evolved and their content has, too.” But in those traditional disciplines you should expect some new ideas and perspectives, he added. More specialties:
The junior and senior years offer students a banquet of majors, minors and everything in between. Programs these days allow students to focus on professional goals while experiencing a broad range of topics.
The biggest change is the types and numbers of degree programs available. If you attended ECU before 1977, when the School of Medicine enrolled its first students, no doctorate programs were available. Then, the university offered roughly 50 master’s programs and less than 75 undergraduate programs.
Today, there are 19 doctoral programs, 77 master’s degrees and certificates of advanced study and 104 bachelor’s degree programs. Students can also supplement their education by choosing from nearly 70 departmental certificates in many academic areas.
While familiar majors like math and business are evergreen, students today are likely to consider areas like engineering, health services management, construction management and information and computer technology.
“When our faculty are developing new programs, they’re thinking about emerging areas in their fields of study and we encourage them to also consider degrees that are suitable for our region,” says Sharon Morris Bland, assistant vice chancellor for academic program development. “We try to help them think in broad terms, say of economic benefits to the region, but also to focus on programs that will serve the university’s goals and mission. We need to make sure our graduates are prepared for the 21st-century job market.”
Some degree options available now that you would not have seen at ECU some years ago include engineering, nutrition and dietetics, distribution and logistics, hospitality management and child life.
What’s more, students today can pursue departmental certificates—a credential that gives them valuable expertise beyond their major. For example, English majors can obtain certificates in multicultural and transnational literature; education majors have certificate options in autism and international teaching. A certificate in security studies is also available.
It’s a different atmosphere:
If arts and sciences was once the central academic grouping on campus, the years since 2000 have brought major changes. The university now organizes itself into nine colleges, the School of Dentistry, the Brody School of Medicine and the Graduate School.
New approaches have come to campus, as well. Computers are everywhere and completing assignments online is a mainstay of academic work, along with essays, research papers and lab reports.
Bigger, sure, but better, too: Rapid growth in the student body is pushing programs to evolve. That wave has led the university to create new structures, such as the Office of Enrollment Management, to accommodate them. The student body has about doubled from the 13,000–14,000 students here during the Leo Jenkins years. Numbers are only part of the story, however.
“It’s more than how many students you admit and how many you graduate,” says Judith Bailey, senior executive director of enrollment management. “It’s how you sustain them through graduation in programs of relevance to them and to the state of North Carolina.”
Burning the midnight oil: With all the new degrees and disciplines, has anything about East Carolina stayed the same? Well, yes. Students still are rabid about football. They still head downtown for fun. It still takes long hours and late nights studying to graduate.
“Grading for our courses has the same standards,” said Griffin. “Parents may sometimes say to their children, ‘Your education is not as difficult as mine was.’ That may be romanticizing what we experienced. There are the same academic expectations as always for our students.”