Background

The Claremont Colleges together serve as a national model of effective consortial collaboration, where each of the five undergraduate constituent institutions (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Scripps, Pitzer, and Pomona Colleges) has a distinctive identity as a liberal arts college, while the consortium as a whole offers students, faculty, and staff the resources of a mid-size university. 

The Claremont University Consortium, the organizational structure that serves all the Claremont institutions, provides support services, including integrated purchasing, safety, health, business, and administrative services. The five undergraduate colleges operate on a common calendar and course times, use common administrative and course management software to simplify cross-registration, and share many student life and academic support services. 

While operations/support services are highly integrated, the academic side of the house has lacked central coordination. Academic coordination has taken different forms at the Claremont Colleges: intercollegiate departments that are fully shared and financed by all five undergraduate colleges and where students from all colleges have equal access to registration; joint programs that are offered at more than one, but not necessarily all, of the undergraduate colleges, with shared financing; and cooperative programs that involve some faculty cooperation in curriculum planning and hiring, but otherwise little or no intercollegiate financial implications, and students have varying degrees of access for registration based on the extent of the cooperation. The majority of academic programming at the Claremont Colleges takes the form of traditional single-college independent programs, with no cooperation in curricular planning, no intercollegiate financial implications and (often) registration priority going to home college students. The Colleges saw the potential to deepen their relationships to enrich academic offerings and to improve cost efficiency.

Project Goals

The 5C Collaborations Project sought to develop and maintain effective, efficient and enduring cross-campus academic collaborations among the Claremont Colleges. The project has developed tools and strategies to better coordinate, support, and assess cross-campus curricular efforts and to build consortial collaborative capacity.

Curricular Collaboration Highlights

Project leaders improved means of sharing information across the campuses in timely ways with an eye to improving decision making; helped interested departments and programs coordinate course numbering systems; enhanced cross-campus communications among working groups and among faculty members with shared intellectual and pedagogical interests; developed curriculum planning tools for programs seeking to coordinate schedules across campuses; identified how campus portals hinder cross-campus registration and planning; and developed common protocols and templates to help cross-campus programs assess their work. Some examples include:

  • Courses in data sciences have been in high demand as students are interested in developing a background in this field for research and industry. A working group of faculty from mathematics and computer science that came together to better coordinate course offerings initially estimated there were 10-12 data science courses available; they ended up identifying more than 20. For the short-term, the group developed an advising chart that shows prerequisites for existing data science courses, where the course falls on the theory-application spectrum, when the course is scheduled, and the programming language needed in the course. Longer term, the data science working group will develop a shared comprehensive curriculum at the undergraduate and master’s level across the Claremont Colleges.

  • There is growing interest among faculty and students in prison justice issues at the Claremont Colleges. A number of faculty address prison justice issues in their teaching, teach classes and workshops in local prisons, and provide community engagement opportunities for their students with organizations that do prison- and justice-related work but these efforts are isolated from each other. A team of faculty, staff, and development officers are now working together to develop cross-campus resources and training for prison teaching and to lay the groundwork for an intercollegiate program in Justice Education. 

  • Mathematics and biology faculty have been developing interdisciplinary coursework in mathematical biology as the field becomes established as a branch of applied mathematics. However, a lack of communication across the colleges has led to overlap of effort for professors and confusion among students on how to use these courses within various programs of study. A cross-campus mathematical biology working group has revamped the content of two lower division calculus courses that incorporate biology and have broader science appeal. These courses are designed to prepare students for mathematical modeling in relevant upper level interdisciplinary courses across the five institutions. They have also been using new communication tools and procedures so faculty better coordinate course offerings and convey them to students (e.g. joint internal/external websites). The group has brought three internationally renowned mathematical biologists for special seminars on campus and is establishing the infrastructure so they can continue this as a joint activity. Relatedly, the mathematics departments across the colleges have launched a standing Curriculum Subcommittee for the Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences to ensure transparent course equivalencies, stronger curricular coordination, unified scheduling to avoid conflicts in the lower division, and defined two- and three-year course rotation agreements.

  • The Intercollegiate Media Studies program identified a need to revamp their intermediate level production courses to better build on the coherence of its beginning level courses and strengthen skills leading up to senior capstone projects. In the short term, the IMS working group is purging an outdated list of cross-listed courses from the catalogues of the five colleges to eliminate confusion on the part of both faculty and students regarding course offerings. Longer term, the major will be revised to include thematic concentrations organized by topic and establish a uniform course naming and numbering system. 

Key Lessons Learned

As project leaders began diving into work on these issues, they realized that poor curricular coherence was, in many cases, a function of infrastructure barriers that impede cross-campus work. For instance, departments interested in coordinating course offerings did not have access to listservs of faculty colleagues across the colleges and to shared course planning tools. Cross-department academic collaboration tended to emerge organically due to the interests of specific members and the level of collaboration diminished when key participants left. Some lessons learned from this project include: 

  • Address “failure to align.”  The absence of alignment between authority, resources, needs, and commitments creates an impediment to cross-campus work. The project leaders found that maintaining momentum amid competing demands for academic consortial collaboration entailed an upfront investment in staffing so that cross-campus work became a “front burner” priority rather than work that suffered from insufficient time, attention, and other resources. 

  • Break out of habitual modes of working.  New outcomes require new behaviors. Yet, the idea of getting past inertia and revamping old practices can be daunting because they are unfamiliar, take a lot of effort, and require trust and commitment. For example, patterns of academic review for shared academic programs have been inconsistent; getting these efforts on a regular cycle of review and improvement necessitated changes in institutional policies, procedures, and administrative work load. Regular coordination among not just faculty working group but registrars, institutional researchers, information technology professionals, and librarians have also been needed.

  • Technology is key.  Improving information flow across the colleges more broadly – and policies concerning the use of technology more specifically – featured as a critically important element. 

  • Skill development is important.  Academics are often socialized and reinforced for individual pursuits and accomplishments. Yet, a hallmark of collaborative work is putting others’ interests on par with one’s own and seeking out opportunities to learn from others. Professional development opportunities to learn how to carry out consortially based academic programming has been helpful as well. 

Collaboration Continues and Deepens

The Claremont Colleges have established a pilot Office of Consortial Academic Collaboration staffed by a part-time director and part-time administrative coordinator. Over the next two years, the new office will advance two intercollegiate initiatives that emerged through the Teagle-funded work: to develop a comprehensive curriculum in data science defined at the undergraduate and master’s level, and to create meaningful prison-related initiatives that both meet the scholastic needs of Claremont College students and provide pathways to academic credentials for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.