Why Keep Field Trips?
by David Wyatt
Biology & Field Ecology Instructor, Sacramento City College
With increasing pressure to cut budgets, Community Colleges are looking towards what is traditionally thought of as the “low hanging fruit” when they are cutting classes to save money. When faced with the choice between cutting a course that is part of a degree program or part of the general education track and a field course, those field courses are the first to go. Viewed as being of little educational value and purely as personal enrichment by those not involved in these programs, departments have found that they must justify field courses to those who would otherwise cut these programs. To that end the Field Ecology Certificate Program at Sacramento City College underwent a review of their curricula during the Fall 2009 semester.
The Field Ecology Certificate Program began in 2002 and was developed in response to industry needs for trained and/or knowledgeable personnel in the biology profession. Since it’s inception, the program has attracted students in the process of obtaining their higher education, students currently at the University of California or the California State University that are seeking biology field experience curricula that is currently limited at their institutions, current employees that are seeking skills to upgrade their existing positions or to qualify for more advanced positions, and those returning to school to pursue new careers.
To complete this assessment a total of 150 surveys were sent to personnel from various federal, stat, and local agencies, to personnel from private environmental consulting companies, to non-profits, and to faculty from academic programs with similar emphasis to Sacramento City College’s Field Ecology Program. A total of 63 surveys were returned and used in the analysis. In addition surveys were sent to graduates of our program to ask them how these courses affected their employment opportunities. Respondents were also asked to comment on the reasons why they felt that Field Studies Programs should remain as a part of the College’s curriculum.
Employers were consistent in their feeling that Field Studies courses were integral to developing the hands-on experience that was so integral to the development of their potential hires and future employees. Some employers suggested that those interested in a position in the biological sciences would be more successful applicants if they took field courses. One respondent felt that field experience gained from these classes encouraged the type of critical thinking skills that were required of those who worked in the scientific field. Surveyed graduates of the Field Ecology Certificate Program felt that the program gave them essential job skills and may have even been the reason why they were able to get their current position. One graduate even attributed his promotion to the program.
Field study = higher grades
Another assessment of Field Studies Courses was conducted by American River College which evaluated whether or not a student would be more likely to persist in a class and finish the semester with a C or higher if the class had a field component as part of its program. The data assessed covered a 10-year period from 1997 through 2007 and included data from over 17,000 students. An initial analysis of the data found that students who took a lecture only version of a particular biology course had a success rate of 55.1% while students who took a similar version of the course that had a field study component as part of the class had a success rate of 71.5%.
These surveys both show that Field Courses are much more than enrichment classes. The study conducted by Sacramento City College demonstrates that students who take field courses are much better prepared for future employment and may even have an advantage over other applicants for scientific positions. The study conducted by American River College demonstrated that students who take classes that include field studies are more successful in those classes. A good analogy of the field study experience is the Allied Health/Nursing Programs that have a “theory” component and a “clinical” component. The classroom lectures would be equivalent to the “theory” portion and the fieldwork would be equivalent to the “clinical” portion. These courses are not just purely for enrichment; they provide experience that cannot be gained in the classroom. It is time to stop thinking of these classes as that “low hanging fruit” and realize the true value of these programs.