How Eureka College Re-Imagined Its Computer Science Program to Attract STEM Students

Using Course Sharing to Build New Programs and Prepare Students for Careers

The story of how our team at Eureka College revived the Computer Science program involves false starts, overturned assumptions, and untapped potential. It also involves partnership, persistence, and important insights: Through this experience, our team learned that course sharing, paired with the expertise of a community, can be a powerful force for reshaping a curriculum to better serve learners for the future.


 In this post, I’ll walk through how Eureka re-built a curriculum by:

-   Finding the right partner institution to share the courses we needed

-   Tapping into faculty expertise across relevant, diverse fields

-   Connecting with employers to effectively prepare students for STEM careers


The Backstory

A number of years ago, Eureka College had a Computer Science program. It failed—for all the reasons programs fail: strapped resources, budget cuts, high salaries for faculty, etc. It’s not easy for a small liberal arts college to house an expensive Computer Science department.

We needed to reassess. We were losing students—students who wanted in-demand majors aligned to careers. Between 2019 and 2029, the number of STEM jobs is projected to grow 11 percent (a higher rate than non-STEM jobs), with positions in computer science leading the way. We had to start looking at options to relaunch the program and increase enrollments.

Scoping Solutions

We considered a dual degree path with a partner institution: knitting together two institutions’ curricula into one to develop a new degree. But this process, though collaborative, posed the time-consuming challenge of deciding which Eureka courses can and cannot transfer.

We also considered third-party and course sharing arrangements that would allow us to deliver a preset Computer Science curriculum, but our faculty rejected such options as “cookie-cutter” and inconsistent with faculty responsibility for our curriculum.

With Acadeum’s course sharing platform, the solution was simple: we would flex our curriculum by hand-picking courses from a like-minded institution to fill gaps—and our students would graduate with a Eureka degree. All we needed was the right partner.

Finding a Partner Institution

We met with a few institutions early on, but the fit wasn’t right. We were looking to strike a balance between theory and practice; we wanted a partner that would work with us to provide our students with a solid academic foundation and relevant skills for the job market.

Saint Leo University had a robust computer science department, with the same teaching philosophy as Eureka. Their syllabi looked like ours, and the way they constructed assignments appealed to us. Most importantly, St Leo’s had a mix of traditional and adult learners—their program is designed for students who may not have a technical background coming to college.[1] This was a perfect fit for Eureka’s liberal-arts focus and student population.      

The Art of Strong Curriculum Design: Tap into Faculty

When it came to selecting courses, faculty provided invaluable insights and expertise. Our existing faculty are polymaths—we didn’t need new computer scientists. Math professors know what a good Computer Science curriculum looks like; digital media designers know programming and the job market for a Computer Science graduate, and psychology faculty understand how to structure statistical programs.

We were confident their input would result in a quality program. As an added benefit, the new program would grow enrollment in their existing courses.

The Art of Strong Curriculum Design: Talk to Employers

We’d initially envisioned a more standard academic Computer Science program, but as we delved into the process of building it, our thinking migrated. We started asking, “How can a computer science program better prepare students for a career?” We wanted to equip our students for employment opportunities, as well as graduate school.

To ensure we achieved these objectives, we connected with regional employers to ask what criteria they look for when evaluating applicants. Their feedback surprised us: companies didn’t want more coders; they wanted more trainable people. As a result, we built a curriculum with the basic competencies employers value. And with course sharing, it’s easy to stay current and continue to regularly update our curriculum as needs evolve.

Getting the Program Passed

We were fortunate to have some experience under our belt. A couple of years ago, we redesigned our Gen Ed curriculum (now called the 10 Essentials) which challenged us to rethink what programs could look like, and how to construct them based on certain competencies, rather than on content. 

Faculty became more open to interdisciplinary use of courses, which created more space and flexibility to design our programs the way we wanted. Along these lines, I didn’t find the kind of internal resistance I’d anticipated to creating a Computer Science program with coursework from data science and information technologies. There’s an openness, now, to different modes of pedagogy and curriculum. 

And I’m thrilled to confirm that the Computer Science program passed faculty approval—current students will be able to enroll in the program in the fall.


For colleges and universities looking to add quality programming through course sharing, consider these best practices from Eureka College:

Þ   Question assumptions: Don’t assume you need to hire new faculty to restart a program. Existing faculty likely have relevant expertise. For industry-aligned programs, talk to employers to see what qualities they look for.

Þ   Don’t be afraid of false starts: Look for different solutions and schools with which you might want to collaborate. It’s helpful to know what’s available to familiarize staff and faculty with new models of delivery.

Þ   Trust and empower your faculty to innovate with your curriculum: We’re fortunate to have a healthy governance structure; the board trusts faculty to govern curriculum. Faculty take that responsibility seriously.

Þ   Get faculty comfortable with course sharing: Encourage them to accept credits and advise students into courses offered through Acadeum.

Þ   Talk to accreditors early: Accreditors are more familiar with course sharing now than ever before. 

Þ   Consider reviving a program, first, before starting a new one: If you’re new to course sharing, it may be easier to start by thinking about how shared courses can make an old program stronger. With this program underway, we’re looking to develop good outcomes to launch new ones.

 


[1] According to a 2020 study by Code.org, fewer than half of US K-12 schools offer a computer science curriculum. 


 

Back to Blog