UND seeks feedback on Essential Studies

UND held an Essential Studies Assessment Week for the second year in a row, and more than 300 student volunteers participated in surveys on either information literacy or quantitative reasoning, the two subjects selected for this year’s assessment.

“We need to know better that students are actually learning and gaining when they finish programs,” Director of Essential Studies Thomas Steen said.

The Essential Studies program was implemented at UND in 2008 after the administration decided the previous general education requirements weren’t educating students comprehensively enough.

The Essential Studies requirements changed the curriculum students need to complete in order to graduate, but although the topic of Essential Studies has received some criticism by students, the implementation of the requirements did not increase the amount of either general education requirements or cumulative credits required by students to graduate.

Some students argue that Essential Studies classes haven’t enhanced their education at UND.

“I think it’s important to be rounded in some areas, but I think they are pushing the people that already are working hard and well rounded to do extra crap,” recent graduate and current UND medical student Mary Jeno said. “The students that don’t care or don’t have a rigorous education probably won’t get much more out of it anyway.”

“I know many of my peers who would agree,” Jeno added.

Others have had a mixed experience with the core classes, criticizing the ease of certain courses while praising what others unexpectedly brought to their education.

“I feel like most of the time they are just a place for students to take ‘Easy A’ classes and many are not a fan of them,” junior Kaitlin Grosgebauer said. “However, in my experience at UND some of my classes I have taken to fulfill those requirements have been my favorite so far and a much needed break from a heavy science-based load many biology majors, such as myself, generally feel.”

Steen said he definitely knows there is a disconnect between students and what the administration’s goal is with Essential Studies.

“That’s our biggest problem in my opinion,” Steen said. “We’ve not done as good a job as I’d like us to do in helping students understand the purposes of Essential Studies to match up with the major. Ideally, ES and the major ought to complement each other, and together would make a quality undergraduate degree.”


Over 400 students participated in last year’s assessment, which looked at quantitative reasoning and oral communication. The results came out in May but didn’t become public until September, after which there were multiple discussions held on campus, mostly with faculty and staff, focusing on what changes could be made to improve the program and make it more effective.

According to Steen, quantitative reasoning scores were lower than professors would have liked, and so moving forward the administration is encouraging teaching staff to focus more on real world applicability and problem solving, particularly in their capstone courses.

“The assessment week has given us a better way to actually find out what our students are learning in Essential Studies, and it’s not perfect, but we’re further down the line than we were back in 2008 for sure. And actually, I think the assessment week that I just described is a nice improvement on the system, so that I think the results are going to be more trustworthy.

“The next big step for us is to do more to share the results with the rest of the campus and to share so that students hear them, and faculty hear them,” Steen said.

“The bottom line is that we’re real happy with how it’s turned out with assessment problems for providing a common assessment for everybody.”

Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Steve Light, who deals with more of the big picture issues, is confident that the program is going in the right direction with the right goals in mind.

“We’re looking forward to working with Tom and faculty, staff, and students throughout the university on our vision for Essential Studies… Our goal is to continue working to make Essential Studies the best it can be, as the heart of a broad-based education,” Light said. “Assessment Week is an important part of that, as it helps us to know what our students are learning through the program.”

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].