The College of Creative Studies is a model of a pragmatic approach to undergraduate studies. Being part of the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, the college stand’s out not only as an illustrious success of undergraduate educational reforms of the 1960s and 1970s, but also as an oasis of hope for student-centered learning, creativity, and initiative in a hostile desert of indifference and opposition from conventional academic departments, administrators, and other stakeholders. Besides, with just a student population of 160 compared to the massive 16, 500 students in the entire UC Santa Barbara campus, the college is a tiny enclave of the university.
In the College of Creative Studies, only eight courses are offered; which include music, literature, art, mathematics, biology, physics, and computer studies. Students dedicate their time and effort to the study of a single subject, covering the courses in breadth and depth in order to have remarkable mastery of the concepts. The lecturers make huge efforts to inspire students to think critically, creatively, and practically in order to discover new concepts and solve existing and emerging problems.
Approach to Learning
The College of Creative Studies was created in response to complaints from students that undergraduate classes were impersonal, without contacts with professors, and offered little content depth and intellectual challenge. When the college opened in 1967, it followed Marvin Mudrick’s ideas of small-size undergraduate classes with exceedingly motivated students. Indeed, the classes contain 15 students or less in seminar-like study environments, with lucid lectures, deep notes, and edifying and powerful arguments between students and their teachers. Students read ahead of classes and take initiative in learning.
The lecturers are motivated as well. They focus on depth and comprehension of content and abhor hurried subject coverage. For instance, Max Schott, a novelist and lecturer at the college had once dedicated a whole winter to a fuller study of a single poem, Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde“. The lecturers encourage students to ask as many questions as possible, argue with their lecturers, and arrive at impeccable mastery and knowledge of the subjects.
Moreover, since the emphasis is on practical learning, students are encouraged to pursue only subjects that interest them. Therefore, prospective scientists and mathematicians, painters and writers, musicians and biologists, work alongside graduate students and professors in learning their subjects practically. The grading system of one to six units of credit is non-punitive and culminates in pass or no record grades for students. This grading system ensures that only students with good comprehension of course content pass, which essentially, helps in the realization of the overall goals of education.
Successes of the College
According to a 1993 review of the college, students who take math and sciences in the college are a year or more ahead of their counterparts in conventional undergraduate studies. Besides, the college has had at least five graduates in physics majors admitted for graduate studies at Harvard University and at Cal Tech. Furthermore, a huge number of the college’s graduates are occupied in independent graduate level laboratory work.
Since the college dedicates its full annual budgets to its undergraduates, there is an amazing value for money spent in every child’s education in the college. Even though the intensity of the system is immense, students who enroll in the college usually get the best education that there is in the University of California system. For instance, the students graduating from the college are usually ahead of their counterparts in conventional education when it comes to graduate studies.
The College of Creative Studies is a center for students who recognize their talents early. Incoming students must make key decisions before they join the college, and should have undergone thorough assessment and help to make their career decisions. For this reason, the students who enroll in the college are typically very good and with higher college entrance test scores and high school grade points than those of average first-year students enrolling at UC Santa Barbara.
Challenges to the College’s System
The external review of 1993 passed a concern that most students may focus narrowly on their specialties and fail to acquire a broad education. To cure this, the review team suggested that the college introduce additional majors and encourage interdisciplinary courses. The proposal has been opposed by the college’s lecturers who consider it against developing a student’s ability to the maximum. Apart from the review suggestions, many tenured professors are unwilling either to work part-time in the college or to engage in intense interactions with students. This causes teaching staff recruitment difficulties. The college’s difference in approach to courses also draws huge negative reactions from conventional undergraduate instructors.