Going the Distance: Integrating Foundational Skills Instruction Throughout the College Experience

Our webinar series on the 4 Stages of Foundational Skills Development wrapped up with a presentation from Dr. Susan Burns, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Clarke University. Clarke represents what we identify as the highest rung on the foundational skills ladder, Employer Signaling, where campuses do everything they can to help students directly link foundational skills to job readiness and attainment across their entire educational experience.

Six years ago, Clarke, a small Catholic university in Dubuque, Iowa, decided to create a “convergence plan” that would integrate their core values, liberal arts, experiential coursework, and general education. The resulting program was known as the Clarke Compass. Among many changes this initiative brought, Clarke began accepting co-curricular activities as a way of fulfilling the requirements of Gen Ed.

Dr. Burns discussed how they designed the program, selecting the following outcomes for the Clarke Compass:

    • Spiritual Growth
    • Competent Use of Language
    • Thinking Skills
    • Integration of Knowledge

Then, after consulting with area businesses and other stakeholders, they added Intercultural Engagement, Leadership, Professional Preparedness, and Self-sufficiency.

The outcomes were then examined to identify competencies, which were translated into requirements. For example, a student looking to fulfill their Intercultural Engagement outcome might be required to demonstrate awareness of other cultures and openness to difference, which they could accomplish through the traditional coursework—or they could study abroad or complete immersive service work.

This allowed for more flexibility, greater autonomy and intentionality on the part of students, and encouraged students to try new things. Another benefit came when Clarke created an electronic record tracking these important competencies (going beyond the usual transcript) that would help students communicate their accomplishments.

Dr. Burns also spoke about how they achieved greater buy-in by teaming up with the marketing department to create messaging and videos about the compass. Most schools don’t market their Gen Ed program to their own students, but Clarke did in order to help students see this as a signature experience in their education. At Clarke, students don’t view Gen Ed as a list of requirements they have to “get out of the way”, rather the Clarke Compass is the way.

The full video goes into fuller depth about how Clarke implemented the Compass, and how they worked to accurately assess co-curricular activities alongside curricular ones. For further reading, check out this Foundational Skills Spotlight of the program.