Meta Majors: A Path to Completion

Heading to college can be an overwhelming experience. Deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life is sometimes confusing, incomprehensible, and just plain frustrating. College can be scary because of the decisions students must make and the impact those decisions will have on the rest of their lives. Iowa Central Community College wants to provide students with a way to start the journey with the end in mind, and anticipate what their future holds. The one thing we want for every student who enrolls in courses at our college is success. That’s right, Iowa Central Community College wants every student to succeed. Part of this success includes not only finding classes they like, but also courses that will take them further in their career.

To help decrease the stress associated with choosing a career path, we are now offering Meta-Majors. The term Meta-Major is not new to higher education but is new at Iowa Central Community College. As we work to increase the success rate of students at our college, we noticed a significant loss in the number of students who come to the institution as “undecided”. What does “undecided” mean? Basically, “undecided” means the student is not sure where to begin, what classes to take, what path to take, and for some his or her goal is unclear. Meta-Majors are designed to help students find their way. They are a new avenue for students to consider and explore careers where their interests lie.

Our research tells us that these students are oftentimes lost in the college experience. They take courses that are of no interest to them and college becomes a never-ending experiment of different courses with no direction. Not only do students lose hope that college is for them, they require extra semesters to complete, spend extra money unnecessarily, and leave with more debt than they can afford, often without a degree. Studies show that “undecided” students do not become as engaged in the courses they are taking because they do not have a group they feel they belong to or share interests with, and the courses are not something they are interested in. Looking around college campuses the highest completion comes from those who are in a specific program. Identification of a goal and a career path provides students with the opportunity to build a network of peers with similar interests, and gain a stronger commitment to completion.

What is a Meta-Major? Meta-Majors are basically career pathways that have been designed to help students identify a goal and educational path. They provide us with a better way to lead students and track their progress. The Education Advisory Board states that Meta-Majors are like GPS for students. They add structure to the courses we offer and provide an opportunity to explore different areas of study, and are pathways heading toward a career. Meta-Majors are designed to help students not only choose a direction, but also stay on the path to completion. While choices are great, too many choices can be overwhelming. Students struggle and are oftentimes not prepared to make life choices their first semester of college. Meta-Majors take away the uniformed choices and provide a way for the student to be informed. Courses within the Meta-Majors are strategically planned to provide a better idea of what lies ahead in the career path. The goal is to help students make an academic choice that is a right fit for the individual.

Iowa Central Community College now offers 7 different Meta-Majors for “undecided” students to choose from. We have a Health Science Meta-Major, STEM Meta-Major, Social Science Meta-Major, Science Meta-Major, Liberal Arts Meta-Major, Communication and Visual Arts Meta-Major, and the Business Meta-Major.

The Meta-Major for Business represents interest in the following majors: Accounting, Administrative Specialist, Business, Recreation and Facility Management, and Supply Chain. The Meta-Major for Communication and Visual Arts represents interest in the following majors: Graphic Design, Journalism, Digital Mass Communication, Professional Photography, TV and Video Production, Visual Arts, Music, and Theater. Meta-Major for Health Science represents interest in the following majors: Dental Hygiene, Radiology, Nursing, Medical Assistant, Medical Laboratory Technician, Fire Science, and Paramedic. The Meta-Major for Liberal Arts and Sciences represents interest in the following majors: Elementary Education, Early Childhood Education, Secondary Education, and Physical Education. This is also the pathway you should choose if you are undecided on a specific major. The Meta-Major for Science represents interest in the following majors: Pre-professional programs such as Physical Therapy, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Exercise Science. This area also includes Athletic Training and Agriculture. The Meta-Major for Social Science represents interest in the following majors: Criminal Justice, Human Services, Psychology, Social Work, and Pre-Law. The Meta-Major for STEM represents interest in the following majors: Computer Science, Engineering, Math, Biotechnology, and Engineering Design and Technology. The programs of study that are listed are not all encompassing, and other opportunities are available with each Meta-Major.

The idea behind the Meta-Majors is that within 2 semesters students will have identified a pathway to continue with. Each Meta-Major is designed with 2 semesters of courses that introduce students to the career pathways associated with the Meta-Major. Each Meta-Major has a “College Experience” course specifically designed for the area of study. This course will provide information pertaining to the different degrees and career paths a student can achieve through the course of study. The concept behind the creation of these courses is providing students with the information necessary to identify if the area of study is of interest to them, and open their eyes to the numerous opportunities available.

In the event students do not find their fit in the Meta-Major they have chosen, the credits earned can still count toward a degree, and exploration into another Meta-Major will begin. The pathways are designed to not only help students choose a career path, but also ensure the credits they earn are credits needed in a variety of programs. We want to eliminate excess credits at graduation and increased spending on education.

Meta-Majors are not the answer to every question, and we acknowledge the fact that not all students will fall into a Meta-Major that is the ideal fit. We do believe that this is the best way for students who are uncertain about their future to gain the best information possible about the options they have, and the choices they need to make. Iowa Central Community College offers a wide variety of degrees, certificates, and diplomas. Meta-Majors provide us with a better way to communicate the options and opportunities available. We will continue to offer our one-to-one advising and develop the personal relationships necessary to help students succeed. Navigate and Meta-Majors are merely tools that will help us better serve our students. We will still lose students from semester to semester but we will now have the ability to find out exactly where we are losing them. We will be able to find the specifics of the students instead of just reporting “undecided” students are leaving.

Some institutions that have implemented Meta-Majors are reporting graduation rates increasing by 20 percent, fewer unnecessary credits at graduation, increased retention rates (meaning students are staying and meeting their goals), and decreased student debt. These are all components we are aiming for. As stated in our institutional vision, Iowa Central Community College strives to be the premier learning community, and college of choice, preparing the best citizens and workers for our region and beyond. Higher graduation rates, greater retention, and increased success will help us stick to the mission and vision of our college, and increase the success rate of our students.

Dr. Stacy L. Mentzer

Institutional Effectiveness Executive Director, Iowa Central Community College