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INQ Curriculum: A Benefit or a Scam?

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laura_worldphoto courtesy of Roanoke College

by Alexa Doiron

The Intellectual Inquiry (INQ) curriculum at Roanoke College is one that most students must complete before graduating. The goal of the INQ courses is to give students a wider range of learning in order to better understand the complexity of the world they are about to enter, as well as broaden their horizons on interests. However, there are a lot of students that do not see the benefits of the intensity of the INQ curriculum.

“I understand the importance of the basic concepts behind having a standard ‘gen ed’ curriculum,” said sophomore Mikaela Wall, “but I think some classes need to pertain more to your field of study. I’m a Communications major; I don’t want to be required to take multiple science courses.”

Conversely, Dr. Hanstedt stands by the INQ curriculum and cites the story of RC alum Shaun McConnon who started out from a low-income home and was able to work his way up to success. McConnon gives a lot of credit for his education to  the INQ program RC for his ability to develop such great skills for critical thinking in his business.

There are also many students who feel as though the workload involved with the courses is too much for a simple general education.The curriculum requires students to take eleven courses ranging from humanities to mathematics in addition to various health and language classes. The sheer amount of classes required for graduation is often overwhelming for students, especially those who want to double major or pick up concentrations. Most majors require eleven or more credits, so if a student were to double major they are taking twenty-two courses plus the eleven required INQ classes.

“I think there shouldn’t be so many classes. I think six would be sufficient, because otherwise it becomes similar to the workload of an additional major,” said Wall.

The graduation requirements also becomes an issue for transfer students, because INQ courses are not allowed to be taken outside of the school. There is always the option of taking the classes over the summer to fit in all of the credits, but summer courses cost about $2,000 each, without financial aid or scholarships. Most students are not able to take on this additional financial burden, one that would not exist if they were allowed to take the courses at a community college near home where the tuition is cheaper and, most likely, where the student already has living arrangements.

It seems the benefits of the INQ curriculum are lost among students who go into freshmen year simply signing up for whatever classes are put in front of them. It isn’t until students are immersed in the courses that they start to wonder why exactly they are taking a class such as “living an examined life.” With students not quite understanding why they are taking certain classes, they begin to question the value of their education. The school has started analyzing this problem by employing the advice and knowledge of Professor Hanstedt.

Hanstedt teaches in the English Department and has been working in Liberal Arts education for twelve years now, completed a Fulbright scholarship on general education, and wrote a book on the subject of general education. Hanstedt now consults various universities on their curriculum and works with students at RC to research better ways of spreading the value of the INQ system.

The importance of general education curriculums such as INQ classes is one that Hanstedt advocate for, especially when students don’t see the value in a well-rounded course load.

“When we’re in college, we tend to think of life as divided into prefixes:  INQ, ENGL, BUAD, PSYC,” said Hanstedt, “ Life doesn’t actually work like that:  on
any given day, a teacher is also a psychologist, a cultural anthropologist, a counselor, a human resources coordinator, an artist…Every job requires people to draw from a variety of areas.”

A study done by Hart Research Associates in 2013 showed that 95% of employers “…give hiring preference to college graduates with skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace.” This means that potential employers are looking for candidates who have strong backgrounds in communication skills, problem-solving, and critical thinking as opposed to simply being well-versed in their college major.

This study found that having these skills paired with the education of their undergraduate major, a blend of liberal and applied learning, is more important to long-term success in a chosen career path, especially because many graduates end up working in a field outside of their degree, which is why a lot of employers look for students who come from schools that have liberal arts curriculums.

The problem remains at RC of whether or not students are aware of the benefits of the INQ courses, but are actually profiting from it in the long run.  

“The classes are so general and [they] don’t help me to understand how my education applies to real-world situations, which makes them feel pointless,” said sophomore Victoria Driver.

This is something Hanstedt is trying to correct by developing a relatively new portfolio system that would help students to reflect on their education from asking questions such as, How do the classes I take relate to my long term goals?  What have I found that I like that I hadn’t anticipated? These are questions that will draw students more toward realizing the benefits of the system they are in.

Despite the annoyances from students, it seems that there are large benefits from this INQ system which Hanstedt is trying to bring to the forefront of students’ opinions.

“Employers recognize that they need people who are adaptable to change…Going to a liberal arts college with a strong general education program helps students become that kind of person–not just as an employee, but as a citizen.”