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PAUL P. FIDLER
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In the summer and early fall of 1999, the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition collected surveys from 707 regionally accredited institutions across the United States on 864 senior seminars and capstone courses. Several responding institutions returned responses on several different courses offered on their campuses. Overall, more than 75% of responding institutions indicated that they offered at least one senior seminar or capstone course. The following are major findings of this research.

COURSE TYPES

70.3% of respondents indicated that senior seminars and capstone courses are discipline- or department-based. 16.3% of respondents indicated that these courses are interdisciplinary, 5.8% of respondents indicated that these courses are transition courses intended to focus on preparation for work, life choice, life skills, or life after college, 4.6% of respondents indicated that senior seminars and capstone courses are "other" types, and 3% of senior seminars and capstone courses are career planning courses.


GOALS

50.9% of respondents indicated that the primary goal of senior seminars and capstone courses is to foster integration and synthesis within the academic major.

22.1% of respondents indicated that the primary goal of senior seminars and capstone courses is to either promote integration and connections between the academic major and the work world or to improve seniors' career preparation and pre-professional development.

5.7% of respondents indicated that promoting integration and connections between general education and the academic major was the primary goal of these courses and 5% indicated that the primary goal was to promote the coherence and relevance of general education.

Respondents were least likely to mark as a primary goal enhancing awareness of and support for key personal adjustments encountered by seniors during their transition from college to post-college life. This goal was marked as primary by 1.9% of the respondents.

Public and private institutions share similar primary goals for senior seminars and capstone courses.


INSTRUCTORS

65% of respondents reported that senior seminars and capstone courses are instructed by faculty members working alone. 28.3% of respondents indicated that senior seminars and capstone courses are instructed by faculty members working in teams. The small remainder of senior seminars and capstone courses are taught by other instructors working alone or in teams, including career center professionals, community leaders, other student affairs professionals, and graduate students. Those least likely to be instructors of these courses are students affairs professionals outside career centers and graduate students.

63.7% of respondents from public institutions and 55.5% of respondents from private institutions reported that senior seminars and capstone courses are taught by faculty members working alone. 29% of respondents from public institutions and 27.8% of respondents from private institutions reported that these courses are taught by faculty teams.


ENROLLMENT

31% of respondents reported that sections of senior seminars and capstone courses at public institutions enroll fewer than 30 students. 50% of respondents reported that senior seminars and capstone courses at private institutions enroll fewer than 30 students.

The smallest sections of senior seminars and capstone courses are at institutions with total student enrollments of between 1,001 and 5,000. 85% of respondents indicated that these sections are kept at under 30 students. 70% of respondents from institutions with total student enrollments over 10,000 indicated that sections of their senior seminars and capstone courses are kept at under 30 students. These differences were statistically significant.

Respondents from institutions of medium selectivity reported the largest section enrollments of senior seminars and capstone courses. 80.5% of respondents indicated that these courses are held to under 30 students. 87.6% of respondents from highly selective institutions indicated that their sections are held to 30 students.

Courses at public institutions are statistically significantly more likely to grant students more semester credit hours for these courses than courses at private institutions.

69.9% of respondents said senior seminars and capstone courses require students to enroll. Courses at public and private institutions are equally likely to be required. 4.7% of respondents indicated that senior seminars and capstone courses are required for none of their students. Courses at the largest institutions are slightly less likely to be required than courses at the smallest institutions. Courses at highly selective institutions are less likely to be required than courses at institutions of other selectivity levels.

When these courses are offered as electives, women are slightly more likely than men to enroll in them.


CREDIT GRANTING PRACTICES
63.7% of respondents from public institutions and 61.4% of respondents from private institutions said these courses fulfill major requirements. Only 5.3% of total respondents said these courses fulfill general education requirements. 24.4% of respondents said these courses fulfill core requirements.


INSTRUCTIONAL COMPONENTS

75.1% of respondents said senior seminars and capstone courses require oral presentations by their students and 71.9% of respondents said senior seminars and capstone courses require major projects. 10.8% of respondents said these courses require service learning or community service, 4.6% said these courses require educational travel, 3.5% said these courses require paid or unpaid employment, and 3.2% said these courses require work shadowing.

Courses at public institutions are statistically significantly more likely than courses at private institutions to require group projects and final examinations in their senior seminars and capstone courses. Courses at private institutions are statistically significantly more likely than courses at public institutions to require the writing of a thesis. No other instructional components are statistically different across courses at public and private institutions.

Courses at large institutions are statistically significantly more likely to require group projects than courses at small institutions. Courses at small institutions are statistically significantly more likely to require the writing of a thesis. Courses at highly selective institutions are statistically significantly more likely to require the writing of a thesis than courses at institutions of other selectivity levels.


LENGTH OF EXISTENCE

72.1% of respondents indicated that these courses have been offered for 15 or fewer years. The highest number of courses have been offered for between one and five years. Courses at private institutions tend to be slightly older than courses at public institutions and courses at highly selective institutions tend to be slightly older than courses at institutions of other selectivity levels.


EVALUATION AND ASSESSMENT PRACTICES

79.6% of respondents reported that senior seminars and capstone courses are evaluated, most often by the students and faculty members involved in the courses. 46.2% of respondents indicated that senior seminars and capstone courses are linked to comprehensive assessments. Courses at private institutions are statistically significantly more likely than courses at public institutions to be linked to comprehensive assessments.

Courses at small institutions are statistically significantly more likely than courses at large institutions to be linked to comprehensive assessments. Courses at institutions of low selectivity are statistically significantly more likely to be linked to comprehensive assessments than courses at institutions of other selectivity levels.

 

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