The New American Baccalaureate Curriculum

What We Teach and How We Measure What Students Learn

How NAB connects with and enhances a liberal arts college curriculum

The curriculum for our new baccalaureate model is co-created by NAB staff and each College. It will comprise a variety of modes of learning, both conventional and innovative, based on our expectations for student performance and each College’s academic strengths.

Here are some thematic areas and curricular components that may be part of our design. They are addressed to our prospective students, since we want them to see themselves as full partners in our liberal arts degree option.

Pre-Enrollment Encounters: What happens while you are still in high school: Before you even think about coming to college, you as a potential NAB learner will experience what it is like to be considered a future college student, someone whose life and culture are seen as strengths to be built upon. NAB faculty and, later, College student mentors will work with you to strengthen your communication skills (reading, writing, talking) and to assist you in taking charge of your own education. This may include helping you deal with obstacles to high school graduation and to find new ways of preparing yourself for college and career.

The NAB Liberal Arts College Curriculum: Building on What Your College Already Offers

1. Core Seminars that foster personal reflection, social awareness, critical skills, and collaborative problem-solving.

These Seminars will emphasize in-depth reading, critical analysis, individual and group learning projects, and self-motivation within a collaborative learning atmosphere. Here are sample descriptions of possible Seminars:

  • Self and Society: Getting Along with Myself and Others. A reflective seminar in which you will read, reflect, and discuss what motivates you and how you might gain more of value in your interactions with family, friends, fellow students and members of the broader community.
  • Writer’s Workshop: Finding My Voice, Sharpening My Skills. This seminar, which may be repeated as often as necessary, will help you translate into writing your thoughts, feelings, and analysis of what you read, hear, think and experience. You will build a writing portfolio to include your previous and current writing in a variety of genres and for a variety of audiences.
  • Technology and Media: Making Sure They Work for Me. A seminar for students who want to understand and use technology and the media as tools to expand their ability to connect with others and to access and critically evaluate the wealth of knowledge now available. “Tech savvy” students may use this seminar to learn how to coach others, or may opt to take a “master course” online from a major university.
  • A Math/Science Magical Mystery Tour: Solving Real Problems, Opening New Worlds. This seminar will attempt the impossible—to give students who have hitherto shunned math and/or science a chance to overcome obstacles and learn how math and science are essential to personal and societal survival. It will also provide an opening to the truly magical powers that may be acquired through further study of mathematics and the various sciences. Students already comfortable with math and science may opt to take more advanced courses in the College.
  • Democracy and Citizenship: Creating a Just and Sustainable World for Us to Live In. What does it mean to be a citizen of a democracy? What rights do you have—or should you have? What responsibilities do you—or should you—feel to others? Is our democracy under attack and, if so, from whom? How can you become an active member of a larger civic community and still have time to pursue your personal goals and interests? Is democracy the way of the future, or a relic of the past?
  • Entrepreneurship: Minding My Own Businesses. Whether or not you will ever be “in business”—in a small or large enterprise, or starting your own—the world of entrepreneurs keeps expanding with new opportunities to follow your passions and provide for your own and your family’s wellbeing. This seminar will also prepare you for your two internships, in a start-up company and in a non-profit working for the good of others.

Other possible topics for Core Seminars might include: Philosophy and Civic Engagement; Preserving our Planet for Our Own and Future Generations; Multicultural Encounters and Cultural Conflict; Private Convictions and Public Speaking; Race, Social Class, and the Pursuit of a Just Society; Spirituality and the Quest for Wholeness. The range of topics is very broad, and seminar offerings are likely to evolve from year to year, with emphasis on topics of meaning for non-traditional students.

2. Courses in the College that explore new ideas and fields of interest

These are special sections offered by College faculty to NAB students, open also to other students. As a NAB student, you will select college courses that expand your horizons and build upon your career interests. Regular college courses will be graded by conventional measures, and may include final exams and term papers. Special sections for NAB will be assessed in a manner similar to Core Seminars, though faculty will have a say in how their particular class will be assessed. We see these courses as an important way to integrate NAB with College faculty and allow them to try new approaches for non-traditional learners.

3. Internships in the Public and Private Sector and/or Study Abroad

To prepare you for productive and sustainable careers, and to help you experience how ideas, values, and norms of behavior operate in the “real world,” you will have two internships. One will be in a for-profit business (such as a start-up venture), and the other in a non-profit organization devoted to social improvement. If you opt for a “semester abroad” you may substitute it for one of your internships. Assessment will include journaling, self-reflection, and an evaluative review by an intern supervisor. We expect you to apply experiences from your internships and study abroad to ongoing college learning.

4. Self-Designed or Existing College Major

Early or later in your college experience, you will select a major field of study that best connects with your future plans. If these plans include graduate school, you may choose a major that will prepare you for advanced study. If you are ready to enter the world of entrepreneurship, working for a company or starting your own, you may opt to design your own major by combining courses, seminars, internships, and independent learning under a banner that best describes your goals and vision. If you are drawn to working in a non-profit organization or social change agency, you may modify an existing major, like sociology or psychology, with relevant courses and internships. Faculty advisors from the College and NAB will help guide your choice.

5. Capstone Project

Whichever path towards a major you select, you will work with College and NAB faculty, and perhaps others in the community beyond the college, to design a project (research study, action project, creative endeavor, extra internship) that will show you and those who care about your future just how much you are likely to accomplish as an employee, inventor, creator, activist, or citizen.

6. Assessment: a recurring process of reflection and self-improvement

Assessment of your learning will emphasize your self-evaluation and critical response from faculty. Since letter grades tend to be “final judgments,” assessment within NAB seminars will be personalized and ongoing, encouraging you to refine those products and skills you want to improve upon. This may at times lead to a pile up of unfinished products and “incompletes.” Within our NAB, we expect to rely on your self-motivation, coaching support, and understanding of performance criteria that relate to the skills and attitudes sought by the best employers to help you make steady progress toward your degree.

7. Performance Capabilities and Dispositions: showing others what you can do with what you know

Our NAB curriculum and assessment practices center around your performance of the skills, abilities, attitudes and other personal qualities that define what it takes to be a productive thinker, worker, and citizen. These qualities are often difficult to measure. But our experience with “competency-based” degree programs assures us that if we spell out these qualities clearly and share them with you early on in your college careers, we can help you make sense of these and relate them to your lives, your learning, and your future plans.

Top employers tell us that they want to hire people who can work with others, who take criticism without losing confidence, who are eager to solve problems, who ask tough questions, who make mistakes but learn from them, who can relate well with different kinds of people, who are able to carry a project through to completion, and so forth. We think a college degree should reflect not only what graduates know, but what you can do with what you know.

So, as hard as it might seem to define these qualities, and harder still to measure them, we will help you understand, experience, and achieve them at least to the extent that you will be ready to learn “on the job” and “in the community.” The specific list of these qualities will be developed in collaboration with teachers, students, and top employers.

We realize we are asking a lot more of you than is asked of most “regular” college students. But you will be working with your teachers and fellow students to achieve these goals, and we think your college degree will better prepare you for your future.