Monday, November 21, 2011

Experential Learning: Another Harrisburg University gimmick and money grab

If you have been following along you'll, recall I talked about how Harrisburg University is not meeting its mission. You'll probably want to go ahead and give that a quick read before you read this post. Go ahead, we'll wait.

Welcome back. Now on to "experiential learning". Harrisburg University likes to say that often. If you ever want to subject yourself to the Harrisburg University Report of Self Study 2008-09, you'll see the phrase repeated 7 or 8 billion times. Here is an excerpt:

"An experiential educational model has always been and remains at the cornerstone of HU’s mission, values, and approach to higher education. HU’s commitment to experiential learning is exemplified in many documents such as the Catalog, Student Handbook, the University website, and admissions marketing materials for prospective graduate and undergraduate students. It represents the manifestation of HU’s mission to connect students to the corporate community, prepare them for productive careers, and support the development of a 21st century workforce in Central Pennsylvania. In our earliest publications, experiential course requirements were articulated as the “HU Advantage.” This “advantage” was defined as connecting a student's academic experience to the world of work through programs that include applied, hands-on learning experiences..." 

In a nutshell "experiential learning" is doing something to learn about it, rather than reading or studying about it. One of the ways that Harrisburg University does this is by requiring students to complete an internship. The other component of Harrisburg University's experiential learning is the completion of junior and senior projects. This is 6 credits worth of hands-on experience....or it's supposed to be. At an institution that actually does research, students would ask for guidance from faculty in subjects that interest them. For example, if a student was interested aerospace engineering, they would ask someone in the engineering department to help them design a project. Usually this project would be related to what the professor is already researching. Since they students are new to science and research, the professor will help them design a reasonable project and generally allow them access to laboratory equipment. This arrangement benefits everyone. The professor receives help with his/her research and the students get to learn about their specific area of interest in a hands-on environment. You can see the obvious advantages for students that expect to work in science fields such as engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, forensics, pharmacology, biotechnology etc.

Many science-oriented experiential learning institutions also aid the students by running a class which instructs the students how to do proper research and how to choose and execute a project. The professor running the class helps students get their projects off the ground and is available to help the students throughout the semester.  Harrisburg University does not conduct this type of class.

Harrisburg University does not support faculty research either. The scientist that work at HU are teaching course overloads and don't have the time for research. Even if they had time, they still couldn't conduct any serious research as the university does not supply funds or equipment. The research and "advanced centers of science" at Harrisburg University are all fake, so there are no research opportunities there either. Therefore, the students have limited opportunities to engage in actual experiential learning. The Provost has decided to let students simply write term papers for their junior and senior projects. This is pretty much the exact opposite of experiential learning. To be fair, there have been some students that have done some fine projects despite the obstacles. Other students have done some projects that were awful, but that is an institutional failure -- the students did not get the instruction that they were promised or for which they paid. Students are paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $4K for what amounts to the university grading a couple of papers. More importantly, the students are being robbed of the education they deserve and expect.

This is a FUNDAMENTAL FAILURE on a grand scale. Remember, Harrisburg University says experiential learning is the"cornerstone of HU’s mission, values, and approach to higher education." However, it is apparent that our administration does not take experiential learning seriously. And by extension, they don't take education seriously at all, which is deeply ironic considering their vocation. By their actions, they have demonstrated that experiential learning is nothing more than some buzz words, a money grab and a marketing gimmick.

Additionally, the university is at risk of losing accreditation:

"...curricula at institutions of higher education should exhibit ...sufficient content, rigor and depth to be characterized as collegiate." And "An accredited institution is expected to possess educational offerings congruent with its mission... and conducted at levels of rigor appropriate to the programs or degrees offered" -Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education. Requirements of affiliation and standards for accreditation 2009. Middle States Commission on Higher Education.


  1. Yep, typical HU. Nothing but a load of empty promises.

  2. Yay, it is BS. I thought I'd get to work in a real lab with a local company. I can't even find an internship. Sarah just gives us BS about how to dress and interview. I can't believe I pay for that garbage.