Capstones aren’t all they’re made out to be, study finds

by Tyler Gieseke

While capstone courses may build academic skills like writing, researching and presenting, they don’t always cause students to synthesize material they’ve learned from across disciplines, according to a recent report.

The report included a two-year study of four private liberal-arts colleges and evaluated 1,229 capstones through focus groups, alumni feedback and surveys of students and faculty members, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.  

Goals of a cumulative senior capstone course include integrating the four years of college, offering breadth in education, applying students’ knowledge and preparing students for the transition into the real world, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

But surveys of students in the report showed they weren’t strong in their ability to put their knowledge in a broader context, the Chronicle said.

“It might be a little bit overly aspirational to think that one student experience, like a capstone, could somehow be a culminating piece that would encapsulate the learning in all dimensions that students learn and go through in their undergraduate career,” Mark Salisbury, one of the researchers, told the Chronicle.  

The University of Minnesota offers capstone courses in departments including the Law School and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  

The research project, called “The Senior Capstone: Transformative Experiences in the Liberal Arts,” was presented Thursday to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Chronicle said.  

The study was supported by nearly $285,000 from the Teagle Foundation, according to the Chronicle.