Faculty/Staff Current Students

Faculty Senate discusses accessibility of four-​​year degree option

Eleven years after voting in favor of a four-​​year/​two co-​​op degree option, the North­eastern Fac­ulty Senate took up the issue again on Wednesday


By: news@Northeastern

November 21, 2013

Hugh Courtney, dean of the D'Amore-McKim School of Business, presents to the Faculty Senate on Wednesday information about Northeastern's four-year/two co-op model. Photo by Mariah Tauger

Eleven years after voting in favor of a four-​​year/​two co-​​op degree option, the North­eastern Fac­ulty Senate took up the issue again on Wednesday, with uni­ver­sity leaders pointing out that adop­tion of the four-​​year option has been fairly low given high interest among incoming students.

Hugh Courtney, dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness and pro­fessor of inter­na­tional busi­ness and strategy, pre­sented ways the uni­ver­sity could make the four-​​two model a more viable option to stu­dents, in addi­tion to the tra­di­tional five-​​year/​three co-​​op model.

Courtney led a task force this summer that ana­lyzed the co-​​op system and explored why, after many years, there wasn’t suf­fi­cient progress in imple­menting the four-​​two option. The Fac­ulty Senate first approved the four-​​two option in 2002, and the uni­ver­sity began mar­keting it to under­grad­uate appli­cants in 2009.

“There are a lot of rea­sons stu­dents would not have done the four-​​two, but one of the hypotheses we are looking at is it’s just dif­fi­cult to do,” Courtney told the Senate.

Co-​​op is the cor­ner­stone of Northeastern’s century-​​old expe­ri­en­tial learning model, which inte­grates class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. In the 2012–13 aca­d­emic year, there were nearly 8,000 co-​​op place­ments at more than 2,900 employers around the world.

According to Enroll­ment Man­age­ment and Stu­dent Affairs, interest in the four-​​two option has risen among incoming stu­dents from 31 per­cent in 2008 to 45 per­cent this year.

Courtney explained to the Senate that in most cases, if stu­dents select the four-​​two option, they don’t get a summer break during their time at North­eastern. That also leads to less of a chance of doing inter­dis­ci­pli­nary studies.

“It’s tough,” Courtney said. “You have to go straight through from Sep­tember in the first year to May of the fourth year.”

Courtney pre­sented some ways depart­ments and pro­grams could make the four-​​two option more attrac­tive, including making cur­ricula more flex­ible, having stu­dents take a course while on co-​​op, and by pro­viding unique expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties during the summer.

“The reality is in any option we need the stu­dent to study or work in the summer, so how can we make it more com­pelling to do so?” Courtney asked, adding the uni­ver­sity could offer a cer­tain number of expe­ri­en­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties that would only avail­able in the summer.

During the dis­cus­sion fol­lowing Courtney’s pre­sen­ta­tion, Murray Gibson, founding dean of the Col­lege of Sci­ence, said North­eastern should develop the way to offer a serious four-​​year degree with an exten­sive expe­ri­en­tial learning com­po­nent because no other school does that.

“We are going to have to create it,” Gibson said. “There is no other choice [if we want to] pre­serve all the things we want to pre­serve. We know the market wants it.”

Some fac­ulty sen­a­tors from more tech­nical dis­ci­plines such as physics, biology, and engi­neering said it would be dif­fi­cult to fit all the credits stu­dents need to grad­uate into the four-​​two model.

“There are other solu­tions needed for sub­jects like ours because get­ting to 128 credits is not a problem, it’s fit­ting every­thing in,” said chem­istry pro­fessor Mary Jo Ondrechen. “The accred­i­ta­tion require­ments are pretty exten­sive, and it’s not just the number of required courses, it’s that they are sequential.”

Pro­fessor Tony De Ritis, chair of the Depart­ment of Music, asked, “What per­centage of stu­dents grad­u­ating in four years is the right amount? How do I know when we’re successful?”

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, answered that it’s not about hit­ting a spe­cific number. “Suc­cess is when all of the stu­dents who come to North­eastern wanting to grad­uate in four years are able to do so without difficulty.”