'Carolina 2025': The evolution of higher ed

Eds note: University President Harris Pastides introduced “Carolina 2025” during his State of the University address. Dean of undergraduate studies Helen Doerpinghaus explains how this 10-year plan will affect the student experience. This story also appears in the September issue of USC Times.

The undergraduate educational experience is evolving, and nowhere is that more evident than in our curriculum. Over the next 10 years, students at Carolina will benefit from a range of new academic opportunities, starting with an increase in the number of interdisciplinary courses offered and a greater emphasis on beyond-the-classroom experiences.

According to Helen Doerpinghaus, dean of undergraduate studies, it’s a matter of responding to student needs and maintaining relevancy in a rapidly changing world.

“Students demand integration of learning in classes with what they are doing outside of the class in their internships, service projects, undergraduate research work, leadership experiences or international study trips,” says Doerpinghaus. “They realize that what they learn in college has the greatest impact if it fits in the context of their life experience and passion – and they want the curriculum and the extracurricular experience at Carolina to support that.”

Indeed, even the definition of “beyond the classroom” will expand as technology continues to break down walls and facilitate communication.

“Students will pull in what they are learning from their friends at other colleges because that, too, is an important part of the learning architecture for young adults,” Doerpinghaus says. “Technology will support very personal engagement — it won’t replace the college campus or in-person connection, but it will support that traditional university experience.”

Pilot and co-pilot

The university started encouraging students to take more control of their college learning experience with the On Your Time initiative in 2013, but no one at Carolina is expected to go it alone. On the contrary, the university has begun beefing up academic advisement to ensure that students have the necessary resources to make informed decisions about their course of study.

Key to this effort is the University Advising Center. Launched in response to a pair of student and adviser surveys conducted by a special task force in December 2014 — and after studying national best practices — the new center will provide advisers comprehensive resources and more consistent information about academic policies.

“The surveys both suggested that we needed to do something as a university to provide some kind of level playing field,” says Doerpinghaus. “The research shows that you’re not going to improve retention and graduation rates without standardized and improved advising.”

Located in the Close-Hipp Building, the new advisement center has served roughly 1,000 transfer-in and change-of-major students since July 2015 and will soon become the hub for all advisement on campus.

Plans call for hiring up to 25 new first-year advisers who will be allocated to different colleges and schools based on targeted caseloads. These advisers will provide guidance on curriculum choices, co-curricular opportunities, academic and career planning and personal development. Additional advisers, including some faculty advisers, will serve upperclassmen.

“If you’re a business student, you’ll probably go to the business school’s advisement office. If you’re in engineering, you’ll still go to engineering,” says Doerpinghaus. “But there will be first-year advisers in those locations who have been trained by the central office, who are hired and evaluated in a standard way.”

Measured growth, infinite opportunity

For all the improvements to the advisement process — and all the emphasis on new technology and beyond-the-classroom opportunities for students — faculty will remain central to the academic experience. In fact, as enrollment grows over the next decade, the university intends to expand faculty at a clip of roughly 25 new tenure-track positions per year.

Coming on the heels of the provost’s three-year Faculty Replenishment Hiring Initiative, the new 10-year plan will result in a net gain of 250 new faculty by 2025.

“We’re still going to replace retirees and people who leave,” says Doerpinghaus. “This is in addition to that, so we can serve more students and at the same time improve quality. Student-faculty ratios will improve, we can add some new researchers, we can bring in faculty in areas that are new and developing.”

As the university responds to the student demand for more engagement with their professors, both on campus and in virtual spaces, faculty will represent what Doerpinghaus calls “the hub in a wheel of opportunity.”

“The future for faculty members holds infinite opportunities and challenges,” she says. “Our faculty are alive and engaged at a time of unprecedented discovery and learning.”

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