Second Commission on Undergraduate Education


The goal of the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education is to build on the distinctive strengths of Hopkins, its values, and its culture, as well as the various investments and commitments that have been made over the years.  It will build on the foundational work done by the first Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE), and leverage the various infrastructural and programmatic investments and innovations that have been made since CUE. Indeed, the fact that the university has made substantial investments and improvements to its undergraduate curriculum over the past decade puts us now in a position to think big and lead.  

The landscape of higher education has changed significantly since the last CUE report, and these changes are likely only to accelerate.  Assumptions about the number of years of education, the manner of its delivery, the funding model, the range of participating students, teachers, support personnel, and more are all being questioned, and practices are already changing. Hopkins should be a thought leader in defining the nature of post-secondary education, advanced degree acquisition, and lifelong learning in the 21st century just as it served as the model for the American Research university as we know it today.

The University’s mission statement is as follows: “The mission of the Johns Hopkins University is to educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.” In line with this statement, we might define the goal of undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins University as follows: we seek to prepare our students for lives of inquiry and exploration, through which they will not only achieve personal satisfaction but will also benefit the communities, from local to global, with which they interact. 

Broadly speaking, the commission’s charge is to interpret this mission for the second and third decades of the 21st century, and to develop a new model for undergraduate education that instantiates our mission and will serve us for the next decade or more.  In particular, since preparation for a life of exploration and inquiry should begin at Johns Hopkins, the commission should consider (1) how to encourage and support students to make their education their own—that is, how to liberate them to explore broadly, take risks, and pursue their own interests and passions; (2) how to create a holistic curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular experience that encourages such exploration and meets the highest aspirations of excellence and distinctiveness; and (3) what pedagogy and infrastructure is needed to support (1) and (2).

Johns Hopkins is somewhat unusually configured in being an R1 university with a strong liberal arts component.  Yet this configuration equips the university particularly well to prepare students for both lives and careers of exploration, inquiry and consequence.  In light of our specific resources and culture, and in light also of some current trends in undergraduate education both at our own university and beyond, the commission is asked to consider the following questions, listed in no particular order:

1.     How can the strengths of Johns Hopkins as One University—that is, the resources of all the university’s divisions—be marshalled in support of a new, more broadly-conceived model of undergraduate education?  How can the traditional gap between liberal and professional education be transcended, such that our graduate professional schools can contribute to a rich and diverse undergraduate education, while our undergraduates can take advantage of resources and opportunities afforded by the professional schools? 

2.     Research is at the core of our academic enterprise.  What role does student research and scholarship, both inside and outside the classroom, play in the new model, and how can we ensure that all undergraduates have some kind of significant research experience at some point in their careers at Hopkins?

3.     How do we continue to provide students with the conceptual bases and skills that traditional majors provide, yet in a way that supports broader exploration and aspiration?

4.     What are the core competencies that will enable our students to continue to learn and succeed throughout their lives? How do we ensure that all our students acquire these competencies?

5.     In-classroom education is undergoing profound change worldwide, driven by ever more powerful technology, new research on learning, and the assessment movement.  What pedagogies, delivery mechanisms, and forms of assessment should support the course-based dimension of this new model?  What (more) can we learn from the Gateway Sciences Initiative and the experimental ethos that characterized it?  Is there insight to be gained from our own research into pedagogy and learning mechanisms?

6.     Learning increasingly happens outside the classroom, in the community and in the larger world.  How, then, do we accommodate and leverage internships, service learning, co-ops, work study, experiential education, and the like within a new, more broadly-conceived model of undergraduate education?  How can we foster the engagement our alumni and the community in supporting outside-the-classroom educational experiences?

7.      Learning also happens within the community of undergraduates, which therefore should be sufficiently diverse in outlook, interests, orientations, and social and cultural origins to support this peer-to-peer dimension of undergraduate education.  How do we ensure that our student cohorts embody the requisite diversity and all students feel adequately supported? How do we ensure that our students have the requisite cultural competency to thrive in a diverse world?

8.     What role should emerging, non-traditional paths to degrees, such as transfers, direct entry programs and joint bachelors/masters degree programs play in this new model?

9.     How can Johns Hopkins improve affordability of its programs, enabling access to a much broader pool of talented students?

10.  What role do the arts play in the Hopkins undergraduate education of the 2020s?  Do our arts programs as currently configured meet the need?

11.  It is reasonable to assume that fewer students will follow traditional career paths in the future. How can we strengthen the ties between in-class education, career preparation and alumni engagement to best support students’ career aspirations?

12.  How should Johns Hopkins assess the quality and efficacy of its undergraduate experience going forward?