Turning Gen Ed Students into Declared Majors at Monmouth College

We may be underutilizing a student’s GenEd experience as an on ramp for declared major discovery. 

Dr. Andre Audette, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Monmouth College, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about how to turn more GenEd discovery students into declared majors for our programs.

GenEds: An On-Ramp to a Declared Major?

Many students’ only exposure to a certain discipline comes during a general education course that they’re “forced to take.” Sometimes, they think of taking that class as just checking a box. It’s easy for faculty to get into that check-a-box mindset, too.

But general education courses actually provide a perfect opportunity to get students interested in a particular subject matter. You have a captive audience, after all, and you can use that to your advantage.

Andre has discovered one clever psychological trick for turning GenEd students into PoliSci majors — you simply ask them.

Yes, it really is that simple. Think of it this way: political science talks about three big reasons why people don’t participate in politics: 

  • Because they can’t, 
  • Because they don’t want to, and
  • Because nobody asked them to. 

All of those reasons apply to academic majors, too, but the last one is the one that we can control.

Here’s how Andre’s approach works: Roughly a third of the way into the semester, generally after the first exam or so, Andre approaches certain students and just asks them to think about majoring or minoring in political science.

“I’m pretty direct,” Andre said. “I might write a note on their exam or talk to them after class.”

Students like to be noticed, appreciated, and wanted. This approach is one way to help motivate them to become more interested in the subject and then to get them thinking about a major that maybe they weren’t thinking about in the first place. 

How to Assess and Select Students for the Major Ask

Should you ask every single student to consider majoring in your field. No. Some students can’t do the major, and some might be seniors ready to graduate with a different major. Those learners won’t have room in their schedule to try to cram everything in.

“I try to identify students who would have the opportunity to do the major,” Andre said. “Students who are doing well in the class, or who seem to participate a lot. Maybe those who’ve expressed an interest in the subject before.”

Students that are going to be successful in the major are the ones who are motivated to be in the class. They’re the ones who are going to have a future in this field. After all, it’s hard to sit through classes that you’re not interested in.

“I’m pretty broad in asking a variety of different students,” Andre said. “I’m happy to work with students if they have a lot of background or very little background in political science. I’m just looking for the students who are genuinely interested in it for themselves.”

But if they’re interested in the major, what’s the underlying problem? What prevents students from declaring a major? Is it an inability to see a clear future in that field from a career perspective? And is it therefore our responsibility to help them picture that?

In short, yes. It is our responsibility. Because much of the problem lies on our side. Academia sometimes employs esoteric terms and processes not always evident to undergraduate students, especially first-generation college students. Some of them  may not even know that your discipline exists or what it is. They might not have imagined themselves doing that kind of work after graduation. 

The trend is for students to seek a clear career path after graduation. So faculty members can be very conscious about helping students see that there is not just one career path within political science — or whatever your discipline is.

“We have some students who go on to careers in politics,” Andre said, “but we also have a lot of students who go on to careers in business, for example. Students interested in the business world might not have envisioned themselves as a political science major, but it could actually be a good fit for both their interests and their career paths.”

Next Steps to Nurture GenEd Students Into Declared Majors

It’s easier than it seems. Asking students to explore your major is a low-cost, low-stakes recruitment strategy. Of course, it’s just one one strategy that should combine with others for maximum results. Faculty can also engage in active learning exercises in their classrooms, be active on campus, and maintain a department that students want to join.

Even if students don’t take on the major, asking them to consider it is still a good tool. It can get more students interested and engaged and help build a supportive environment.

 

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Andre Audette from Helix Education. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.