The incoming Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at the University of Tampa is a program designed to improve our learning experience and I think it is a great idea.
The QEP is a required part of the university’s accreditation program that happens every ten years through the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The theme for the next decade is “Learning by Doing: Inquiry-based Learning and Experiential Education.” The University of Tampa (UT) is going to promote more faculty-student engagement, more mentoring, better funded undergraduate research, redesigned first year classes to highlight inquiry, an online journal to publish inquiry-based work, annual showcases of student work, and a new Office of Student Inquiry Projects, according to the QEP video on UT’s website. The school is going to dedicate $1.2 million per year to fund these programs.
The ideas behind the program sound awesome. I am genuinely excited for the opportunities this plan can bring, However, some aspects of the program seem pushy, overbearing, and others seem difficult to access. Students didn’t have any say in how the program would affect them or what the program would even be, what’s more, it feels as if it’s being forced upon us.
The program is going to begin with a “Bottom Tier,” pushing future first year students to get involved in research projects, internships, and requiring students to attend more events and seminars according to a QEP handout.
But how are undeclared students supposed to learn career-oriented skills when they haven’t picked a career yet? About 30 percent of UT freshmen come in undeclared, according to ut.edu. That’s a big chunk of the first year population that would have a difficult time participating. Forcing me to go to seminars and shoving research projects down my throat wouldn’t make me want to do these things. It would make me resent the school’s pushy attitude. If UT wants students to respect the program, UT needs to respect the students and allow them to come use the resources when they’re ready.
The “Middle Tier” is aimed at sophomore and junior students and will incorporate “Inquiry-based learning” into existing classes for every major, according to the QEP handout. Inquiry-based learning includes research for science majors, creative works for majors in the arts, and internships. This part of the program seems well thought out and useful. Sophomore and junior students should already have a pretty good idea of what their major will be and therefore have no problem getting involved in research and internships. Because it will be incorporated into major classes that already exist, the inquiry-related activities are more likely to relate to a student’s future career and meet very little resistance, after all students chose to be in that major.
The “Top Tier” is aimed at “select junior and senior students,” according to the QEP handout. Students can apply for inquiry-based experiences that will end in a presentation of some sort to the UT community. So after the pushy, overbearingness of the bottom tier inquiry-based learning and the great learning opportunities given by the middle tier, the juniors and seniors have to apply to receive the inquiry-based resources.
It’s upsetting that the students had no say in what the QEP would be. According to Kristin Anderson, President of Student Government and a senior advertising and public relations major, “It’s never taken to a student vote. Faculty and staff work together to formulate it but we fully support it.” This is something that will affect everyone on campus but the program was designed strictly by faculty and staff. Students that already attend UT are going to have to put up with this program that we knew nothing about when we applied here. Current freshmen, like myself, have already settled into a four-year plan, made friends, and established ourselves at the university in clubs and organizations, only to have our learning experiences changed. I’m expecting to have to take on more internships and research projects which will cut out my already-limited time for the organizations I’m in. Also, I’m still in the process of picking a major. I chose this school because I felt like I would have time to experiment with different majors before I got involved with internships.
I’m not ready to take on hours at an internship if I’m not even sure I’ve picked the right career path yet. And I’d like to know at least the basics of an industry before I go apply for an internship. Students that will be freshmen next year will have the opportunity to choose if this sort of hands-on experience right away is something for them or not. They can research it before they enroll and if they don’t like it, they can decide not go to here. But students that already attend UT are either going to have to support this program or make the difficult decision to uproot themselves and leave.
The way this program is being presented is also disturbing. I’ve been given the QEP handout, preached to by my professors about the program and been told my degree won’t mean anything if I don’t say that I’m excited about the program. I’ve also sat through the video about the QEP in my pathways class, which resembles propaganda with it’s upbeat music, smiling students, professors working as mentors, and no possible bugs in the program being addressed. Courtney Carson, a freshman accounting major said after the presentation, “It feels like something we have to do. We have to look good for them [SACSCOC]. I feel like I should just be saying, “Oh yeah, I heard about it” and run away.” It’s not right that we’re being forced to feel and act a certain way to impress the association. And it’s a very negative attitude to have over a program that has the potential to be so positive. There would be a much better student response to the QEP if professors went more into detail about exactly how it would affect us rather than just handing us the materials the QEP committee created and saying we had to understand them and be able to regurgitate the information. If the QEP is so great, we shouldn’t need to be threatened to comply.
Although there are good ideas behind the QEP program, there are still problems that need to be worked out, and the way it’s being pushed onto students is just too much. For a program that’s supposed to help the students, it seems a lot more like a way for the school to force us to do things their way.
Liv Reeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org