Alverno College, a small women's
college in Wisconsin, has
generated remarkable interest on the
Alverno essentially has open enrollment, and
part of the school's mission is to make higher
education accessible to women who need extra support.
Many students are single mothers or the first
in their families to attend college. Professors go out of
their way to provide help; many give students their home
phone numbers. And more than one-third of the students
are minorities -- the highest percentage of such students on
any campus in the state.
Despite the challenges of working with nontraditional
students, Alverno's education department has an impressive
record. Five years after graduation, approximately
85 percent of education alumnae are still teaching, many
for schools nearby in Milwaukee. Graduates say they seem
better prepared to teach in comparison with their counterparts
from other colleges.
Much of that success stems from Alverno's unique
curriculum, which focuses on the development of
eight abilities considered critical for real-world
success -- skills ranging from being an effective
communicator to having a global
The course offerings
sound similar to those at
other institutions --
perspectives in literature
or philosophy of
education, for example --
but in each
class, students are
expected to demonstrate
in relevant abilities.
on achieving key
to think of
terms of individual
development. It also emphasizes
can do, not just what
they know. Rather than a written exam on literacy assessments,
for example, students might be asked to
evaluate a real child's reading abilities.
"They don't ask students to memorize things, or
question them on facts," says Kathi Glick, a teacher
in the Whitnall School District who earned her bachelor's
and master's degrees at Alverno and taught a
literacy course there. "Students process the information.
Teachers put you out in the real world to
One of Alverno's most innovative practices
is its use of performance-based assessments.
Instead of letter grades, students receive continual feedback
from peers, instructors, and outside professionals.
Professors typically give students a full page or more of
feedback on each project. Students also watch themselves
on video and conduct self-assessments.
Each course has clear objectives. "Students know the
criteria before they've even stepped into the classroom,"
says Nancy Jelen, dean of the education program. Students
compile a Diagnostic Digital Portfolio of key projects and
feedback, which provides a matrix of their progress.
Field placements are another one of Alverno's
strengths. During their second and third years, undergraduates
have four twenty-five-hour field experiences
(at least two in multicultural settings), plus a practicum
in which they work with special-needs students.
The placements have clear objectives and are closely
tied to coursework. The second placement, for example,
focuses on reading and occurs while students take
a literacy course. That way, they can apply in life what
they're learning in academia.
"They're very confident," says Glick, "because they learn
Degrees conferred: Bachelor's or (for add-on license only) master's
Annual graduating class: 75
Time in the field: 6 semesters
Ability-based curriculum focuses on individual development
Diagnostic Digital Portfolio
Denise Kersten Wills is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.