CPCS Makes Major Curriculum Changes

J.P. Goodwin

This September, UMass Boston’s College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) introduced a new curriculum – with a completely revised set of competencies – completing a process begun over four years ago.

“After 30 years, we felt, as an alternative institution, we needed to look at our practices and what was going on in the world and to make sure we were in line with what was needed for our students,” explained Sarah Bartlett, the administrative dean at CPCS.

The most visible changes, according to Bartlett, include a revision of the college’s majors and the addition of new concentrations in areas such as Community Media and Technology, Training and Development, and Youth Work; a change in the number of competencies (which are comparable to credits) needed to graduate from 50 to 40 (making the number of competencies equivalent to university credits), a more explicit focus on policy and advocacy organizing, and a newly revised General Education component that is in line with university requirements.

The most significant change entails what CPCS Dean Ismael Ramirez-Soto described as a “refocusing of our mission.” When Ramirez-Soto came to CPCS six years ago, CPCS began the process of “embracing fundamental change.” He stated, “We needed to break away from the past and concoct a college that was looking forward, not relishing in the past.”

At the beginning of the process, the CPCS community engaged in dialogue about the mission of the college. From that, the college developed a new mission statement that guided the restructuring of their curriculum. In addition to responding to societal changes, the group hoped to develop a curriculum that “helps us to maintain our commitment to meaningful access for diverse students, but that provides appropriate pathways and support for them to develop competence…one that is attractive to a wide range of students – both those who have traditionally been attracted to our professionally-oriented curriculum and those who would be attracted to our social justice perspective” and “one that maintains/strengthens our commitment to providing alternative modes of instruction and evaluation, including project-based and collaborative learning projects, evaluation of prior learning and directed study.”

In working towards these goals, the college wanted to expand on the social justice aspect of their mission, while strengthening their methods of delivery and increasing their focus on outcomes. They also wanted to move away from the idea that CPCS was strictly a vocational school for older learners. (Bartlett pointed out that 40 percent of CPCS students who entered in academic year 2001-2002 are traditionally-aged students between the ages of 17 and 25). “We’re a liberal arts college with a particular focus. The new curriculum is designed to be attractive to wider range of students who are trying to figure out what they want to do related to today’s issues.” She added, “Under the new curriculum, students still have the option of demonstrating competencies through a variety of methods, including evaluation of relevant prior learning experience.”

As an example of the change in the focus of the program’s majors, Bartlett explained that for the Human Service major, they did focus groups with human service agencies and employers in order to determine what their needs were. “They wanted less of a focus on crises management and more on case management and alternative strategies for improving services to clients.”

The new curriculum has integrated reading, writing, quantitative reasoning, and information technology skills into all competencies across the curriculum by providing more opportunities for students to develop and practice these skills. Portfolios have been introduced as an assessment vehicle for measuring this skill development. “Instead of seeking agreement on course modes, we would seek agreement on outcomes,” said Ramirez-Soto.

The new competencies are designed at each level to prepare a student to work at a more advanced level and to allow them to pursue areas of interest without unnecessary expansion of degrees.

“We made the changes because we didn’t want to get stale. It will never be done. We’ll constantly be tweaking the program, working towards a more coherent and cohesive curriculum,” concluded Bartlett.