Verbal co-requisite expands to freshmen

NEW ORLEANS (Nov. 2, 2018) – A pilot program that aims to improve verbal skills for Dillard University students has expanded to the entire freshman class this fall.

Verbal Assessment and Support, using Merit software, is now a co-requisite for all ENG110 and ENG111 classes and will expand to ENG112 in the spring as part of the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative, or CPI, a grant provided to help DU students become more career-ready.

Dr. Cleo Joffrion Allen, CPI lead at Dillard, said the pilot started with Emerging Scholars in 2017, then expanded to the First-Year Seminar Pre-Law class and Mass Communication freshmen in fall 2017 and spring 2018. With the addition of freshmen this year and each succeeding freshman class in successive falls, eventually all DU students will be a part of the effort, she said.

Merit is an individualized grammar software program that allows students to improve their skills in the mechanics of writing once their level has been determined by a pretest. The co-requisite requires the students to work with the software outside of the classroom, and teachers monitor their progress for 10 percent of their grades.

After the freshman year, Allen said, the co-requisite will continue in each major program, with each major attaching the co-requisite to one 200-, 300- and 400-level class. Finally, graduating seniors will take a post-test to complete the effort.

The goal is to enhance one of the Top 10 “soft skills” employers consistently report desiring in an entry-level employee, no matter the major, according to annual surveys by the National Association of Colleges and Employees. Those include the following skills: communication (written and oral); problem-solving; teamwork; leadership; strong work ethic, analytical/quantitative; initiative; attention to detail; and flexibility/adaptability.

Allen said pretest results so far have confirmed what faculty long suspected: that DU students have verbal deficiencies that must be addressed. While students entering college are expected to be at Levels 4 or 5 in the Merit software, many students are initially testing at Levels 1-3, Allen said.

Even so, she said, the work with students so far also has indicated the tremendous progress that is possible, and this matters to the success of all Dillard students.

 “Even if you are a great physicist, if you can’t write a report, if you cannot express yourself well, you are not going to be as successful as you should be,” she said.

In addition to the Verbal Assessment component, the $1 million, five-year CPI grant initiative also includes writing-intensive courses in a 300- or 400-level class in every major, career-course modules in major classes in collaboration with the Center for Career and Professional Development; the growth-mindset awareness initiative; faculty/course development; and support of GradLeaders/Bleu Pride Guide in the career development office. The faculty development focus next spring will be related to promotion of active learning, Allen said.

Dr. Casey Schreiber, assistant professor in Urban Studies and Public Policy, is CPI co-lead.