The Transformational Experience – part 1

Ryan Gilliland

I’m an optimist. I really and truly am. The strides this school has made in the last year have positioned us far ahead of the competition, and our president and his staff make our success as students their top priority. I genuinely believe that. They’re outstanding, and I’m behind them on nearly every issue.

?That’s why it’s so disappointing to watch one of the university’s latest initiatives, the “Transformational Experience” weave its way into the culture of our institution and come to fruition.

?Recently passed by the Faculty Senate, the transformational experience basically equates to a requirement mandating the completion of a large body of work outside of class in one of four “tracks” that students select before they’re allowed to graduate.

?While I understand and applaud the administration for crafting something unique and independent, and strongly agree that students need to be pushed harder, this isn’t the way. The transformational experience forces students to get involved. While that’s great when students are at Washburn, it does them a disservice upon graduation.

?My high school adopted something nearly identical, and coincidentally trumpeted the new measures with the same tune we’ve heard. But it fell flat, is despised by students and tinkered with nearly every year in an effort to save it.

?Students are babied through elementary, middle and high school. By forcing involvement at the university level, they won’t have a chance to learn the rewards of involvement on their own, which is essential. Let’s be honest, if a student doesn’t have the drive to get involved during college, they won’t have the drive to get involved after college – transformational experience or not.

?College is unique because it’s the first chance for students to be cut lose and dependent upon themselves. It’s their first chance to fail in a real way – and that’s crucial. By force-feeding them, students are not only losing that sense of personal achievement, but could unfortunately develop an aversion to community service or leadership opportunities.

?In addition to the theoretical apprehensions, I’m not sure Washburn has the logistical fortitude to tame what will be a bureaucratic beast, to say the least. One of the few glaring inefficiencies at Washburn is our academic advising situation. The nightmares I’ve heard – and experienced – while trying to put together a schedule will become a secondary concern when our record-breaking army of students needs advisers to do more than just sign off on a simple course list.

?The bulk of the $850,000 annual budget, $510,000 is set aside for “faculty load,” but even if serious changes are made we’ve still got our hands full. Bottom line, if we can’t manage to put together schedules, then 7,000 students looking for constant attention and guidance on an intricate and unprecedented system won’t be even marginally manageable.

?Unfortunately, students won’t have much input from this point on. The plan only needs approval from the faculty and Board of Regents. The most discernable input we’ve had was our student government’s “approval” of the plan late last year. I was part of that review, and although my concerns were the same at that time, an effective student body president advocating the initiative swept the idea past senators and found the votes necessary to pass the stamp of approval.

?Now don’t get me wrong; a transformational experience isn’t going to derail Washburn. Although $850,000 a year is quite a commitment for a plan not likely to be favored by the typical student, we’ll survive without it. I just wonder where the real benefit lies. Of course it’s unique, but in all honesty, many employers won’t be that interested. Even if they are, I’m sure a genuinely active student will have a much better shot than one begrudgingly prodded through a mandated set of requirements.

?Make the transformational experience a certificate program. That way an involved student truly would earn something unique – and real. Quit spoon-feeding students that don’t posses the basic skills required to compete and win in the open market. Raise the standards for admission if that’s what it takes to find students interested in something more than a standard degree. We’re the most prestigious university in the state. We shouldn’t have to give away degrees; they should be earned.