Course Overview

Our guiding assumption in this course is that higher education functions through a series of relationships, and that exploring these relationships through writing will help us to contextualize the way we understand both higher education in America and our personal college experience. We can think of these relationships in different clusters or “frames”: as conversations between students, their families, and their teachers; between faculty and administrators; and between universities and the racial, ethnic, and geographical communities from which they draw. Through a progression of formal and informal writing assignments, we will contribute our voices to these conversations. One of the clearest ways that we can begin to understand what drives these conversations is to read and write about them in the context of the institution of which we are all a part: The City University of New York (CUNY). The process of observation, argument, evaluation, and revision that has driven changes in educational policy at CUNY is the same process that you will engage with as you participate in the interchange of ideas and information through your writing in this class. We will also explore the series of choices and circumstances that led to your decision to come to CUNY. What will be your relationship to this institution? How do your reasons for coming to college compare to generations of students who preceded you? How do your values converge with or diverge from the values of your university?

Assignment Sequence Rationale

Through a series of low-stakes writing assignments (see “Pre-draft Assignments and Activities” under the Higher Education topic on the Qwriting site), and stages of draft and revision for each of the formal assignments, students will write four essays during the semester that explore their own educational experiences as positioned against larger questions of educational policy and politics at the City University of New York. Students are encouraged to consider their own lives as students amidst a broader view of national averages, expectations, and policy debates created through the assignment sequence.

The first essay asks writers to develop an argument that analyzes the tension between sources. The second essay asks the students to research an educational policy that is of interest to them, and to develop an argument, using that research, that explores the positions of opposing points of view in a hypothetical debate they create. The third essay asks students to address a specific audience, writing letters to the Provost of Queens College that use evidence from the course readings to make a case for how the College can best serve its student population.  The fourth essay, a multi-stage ethnographic assignment, includes research, an annotated bibliography, fieldwork, and a final evaluative write-up. This project asks students to conduct interviews, compile and assess data, and write an analytical argument that not only utilizes their research but also has them examine and reflect on their roles as researchers.

The materials and description for this course were revised in 2012.

Course Documents

Pre-Draft Assignments and Activities:

Low stakes assignments:

Materials for the ethnographic project:

Previous versions of the syllabus:


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