The University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) has implemented some radical ideas in higher education and, so far, it seems they are successful. They want to hire teachers who want to teach, and enroll students who want to learn. Sounds simple enough, although other colleges and universities sometimes fail to achieve this. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that UMR costs less than traditional schools.
(Photo Credit: SMBCollege/Flickr)
Research and Tenure
Looking for “teachers who want to teach” sounds reasonable enough. It seems some universities focus on hiring scientific researchers to continue their work in the laboratory, and then require that they put up with teaching students. The university benefits from the prestige of being on the cutting edge of their faculty’s discoveries. And it doesn’t hurt the students to be exposed to such inquiry and knowledge.
Not all researchers make bad teachers but, unfortunately, it does happen that researchers who are not good teachers are required to do so. It comes with the package. Hence, many students end up sitting in huge lecture halls listening to professors (or even graduate-level teaching assistants) drone on in an monotonous explanation of PowerPoint slides. It’s no wonder college students drink coffee to stay awake.
UMR’s tenure criteria focuses on a professor’s background and experience promoting student learning. In order to keep their jobs at UMR, professors must research and write about how to improve education. Their research in their chosen fields of study is secondary to their insight and proven passion for facilitating student learning.
Professors at UMR invest much more time than at other universities in working with students. Instead of having a few office hours every week, professors spend time in study halls working through chemistry problems or great philosophical questions with students who are trying to understand. The level of commitment on the part of the teachers must be especially high for them to succeed at UMR.
The Student Experience
Taking classes at UMR is more than a full-time job. Students have estimated that they spend 35 hours per week on schoolwork — outside of class time. As much as the dedication of the professors must be superior, so must be the dedication of the students.
UMR had trouble maintaining a student body in the beginning. They lost 25 percent of the student body in their first year; people left supposedly because of the demands on both their time and the difficulty of the coursework. Being a student at UMR is a commitment that may be beyond what most students want to make to education.
Costs and Finances
UMR is radical in other ways, as well. The “campus” is located in a shopping mall. It would seem this keeps overhead down.
Tuition is generally lower than at other colleges and universities; Forbes quotes $13,000 per student per year. Perhaps including books and transportation, a degree from UMR may total about $60,000. In contrast, Harvard currently costs about $60,000 per year.
Time will tell if a radical, new way to educate students will become the saving grace for the brightest minds who can not afford the astronomical expenses incurred at traditional universities.
Tell Us What You Think
Would you consider a school such as UMR? Why or why not? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.