Have you ever considered offering a course on your institution’s own history? It’s not something that all colleges and universities agree on. Some argue that these types of courses border college propaganda and don’t provide much academic value. However, as more institutions look to differentiate themselves from other schools, create a stronger sense of institutional pride and strengthen their communities, the idea of teaching about the college’s history seems more reasonable.

Professor Corey Ryan Earle has taught a course at Cornell University for the past six years that covers the institution’s history and position in the American higher education system. A wide range of topics are discussed, including the founding of Cornell, student life and diversity.

The benefits to teaching such a course have been well-documented by the professor and students. Let’s examine what these benefits are and how they can help your own higher institution succeed with current and future students.

Create a Unifying Experience

Creating unifying experiences on campus isn’t exactly easy, particularly if you have a large institution. Think about how many students on your campus won’t ever cross paths, even though they may share a lot in common. Their varying fields of study will push them on different journeys. However, a course that teaches your institution’s history can relate to all students.

By offering a course of this sort, you bring together students of all backgrounds, interests and majors. They leave their differences at the door and come together for a shared passion: to learn about your school’s rich history.

Courses that teach an institution’s history also facilitate deeper connections between students and the institution. With so many grievances regarding the college experience – increasing tuition, high dropout rates, poor job opportunities – young people are not as appreciative for their higher education. Yet if these students realize the opportunities they have today because of former students, they become more grateful for the experience.

Boost School Pride

School pride is not just something that takes place at high school pep rallies. It’s a crucial part of America’s colleges and universities. Unfortunately, too many students these days are simply moving through their schedules, counting the days toward graduation. What happened to the pride that comes with a higher education?

Teaching students about your institution’s past can help them develop more excitement about their journeys. Students should graduate knowing what makes their school special. Not only does this create positive feelings toward your higher institution, but also proud students are more likely to become proud alumni. When you reach out to alumni for donations or engagement, the ones who feel most connected to your school will be likely to step up and help.

Longer Term Engagement

Many colleges and universities drive home the concept of “future alumni” from orientation to graduation. Stories of successful alumni are continuously brought up to demonstrate the difference that one individual can make. Unfortunately, stories of this sort can be too aggressive and pushy for students.

Some graduates admit that they feel bombarded by requests to donate from their alma mater. If they don’t have the financial ability to donate, those requests only place more pressure on them. Rather than continuing a meaningful relationship, these alumni detach themselves from the school.

A better approach is to create more meaningful ties to your school that result in longer term engagement. By teaching students about your history, you can keep them engaged with your story and their role in it.

Students also need to realize that there is more to being an alum than simply donating. Talking about your brand online or attending football games matter just as much. Also, if you show alumni that you value all forms of participation, they will be more likely to donate when they have the means to do so.

Choosing Topics to Discuss

Putting together a course on your institution’s history isn’t difficult to do. All you need is an enthusiastic instructor who is willing to do so. Even young schools have plenty to share, as every institution has a beginning of how it came to be.

Below are a few ideas of the material that can be presented in a course of this type.

  • Founders and finding of your college

  • Student life

  • Student activism

  • Key traditions

  • Diversity and inclusion

  • Finances and administration

  • Alumni who have changed the trajectory for your school

  • Challenges faced by certain groups such as women or students of color

  • Evolution of specific organizations or departments

  • Visits to key places on campus, such as the chapel, university archives or war memorial

  • General walking tour on campus

As you look for additional ways to separate your institution from others, consider offering a course about your school’s history. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to come together for a shared purpose and create deeper connections between themselves and your higher institution.