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Eureka College works to attract students in an unstable time for higher education

Dr. Jamel Wright is the president of Eureka College.
Collin Schopp
Dr. Jamel Wright is the president of Eureka College.

Across the country, higher education institutions are reevaluating what they can offer students in a changing and competitive workforce.

The volatile workforce combined with a predicted drop-off in enrollment — sometimes called the “Cliff of 2025” — create an uncertain future for American colleges.

Dr. Jamel Wright is the president of Eureka College. She said this year’s new enrollment of 194 students includes 138 freshmen, which is right on track with the college’s 10-year average. She said the relative stability for the small private campus in Eureka, Illinois is reassuring, particularly in this competitive environment.

“Really higher ed is just really unstable across the board right now,” she said. “So having an average number of freshmen, hitting our 10-year average ... being right in our range of what we anticipated and projected for our incoming class total is a good thing.”

Over the last few years, Eureka College has continually reworked their program offerings. The changes range from entirely new programs and curriculums, to ways to better serve students that commute, as well as those returning to higher education to “upskill” after time in the workforce.

One such program is a new cybersecurity certificate.

“That is one of the most in demand careers,” Wright said. “As we know all of these different things with hacks and that kind of thing at every level and across a lot of different industries.”

Wright said the program is flourishing, with two 35-student cohorts currently in session and a new cohort starting in November. There are still open spots in the November group.

Eureka College aims to make the General Education requirement more streamlined and transferrable with the new "10 Essentials" curriculum.

In addition to offering new programs and certificates, Eureka College also created an entirely new rubric and classes for their General Education requirements. Wright said the shorthand way to refer to the new curriculum is the “10 Essentials.”

“It's about them gaining mastery in those essential skills that employers have long told us that they desperately need, and now more than ever before,” Wright said. “So they need people who are good communicators. They need people who have an appreciation for intercultural competence and difference. They need people who understand a little bit of scientific literacy. They need people who have a love and passion for civic engagement and social justice.”

Faculty developed entirely new courses around the essentials for students. A new rubric tracks student progress through the General Education program and, Wright said, provides more flexibility for student scheduling.

“It requires fewer credit hours than you might find at a lot of colleges and universities,” she said.

The 10 Essentials represent a 30 credit hour curriculum, whereas Wright said many universities spend between 40 and 42 credit hours on General Education. She said the courses also are focused on providing “transferable skills” that have demonstrable uses in disciplines of all kinds as students progress further down the track into their specific major.

“It's also a nod to the fact that everyone doesn't come in at the same place,” Wright said. “The student coming from high school directly is completely different from the adult learner who's coming back to school after having had a long career in the military, or in some other corporate space.”

So far, student reaction to the 10 Essentials has been positive, she said, adding they especially find value in the flexibility and streamlining their schedule.

Wright doesn’t see the change as a major shakeup to Eureka College’s education style, but as a result of listening to student needs and continuing to evolve. She said this is particularly important for a student population leaving the remote learning environments of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order to really meet the needs of this year, and the needs of this moment in higher education, we have to be able to figure out how to anticipate what those needs are going to be for the students and the types of academic programs that we need to create,” she said. “The types of wraparound support services that we need to have for students to ensure that they matriculate to graduation.”

Wright called anticipating these needs a “priority” for Eureka College.

“The task at hand for us is not only figuring out what types of programs and transferable skills we need for the jobs of the future that we don't even know exist. That we can't even imagine exists, in order to really equip students,” she said. “But it's also, before they can even get there, figuring out how to help them to provide that foundation, that strong foundation for them.”

You can find more information about the specific “essentials” included in the new curriculum here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.
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