Book cover of Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J. Ketcham, Anthony G. Weaver, and Jessie L. Moore

This chapter examines the language colleges and universities use to represent required undergraduate capstone experiences. How do institutions frame capstones, and what do these frames tell us about the goals of culminating experiences and the drivers of institutional change?

In “Making the Case for Capstones and Signature Work,” Nancy Budwig and Amy Jessen-Marshall lay out various theoretical frameworks for culminating experiences, from workplace preparation to effective citizenship to student learning. But how do institutions make use of these frames in practice? More specifically, how do institutions that are fully committed to capstones—those that require them of all undergraduate students—represent this high-impact experience?

To answer these questions, the chapter authors conducted a systematic review of 481 colleges and universities in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Based on their public-facing documents (e.g., programs of study, course catalogs, and undergraduate bulletins), fifty-five of these institutions require a capstone for all baccalaureate degrees, representing 4% of UK, 5% of Australian, and 15% of US institutions.

For these 55 institutions, the authors analyzed descriptions of required capstones to identify prominent themes—integration, communication, critical thinking, connection to future goals, application, etc. These themes provide insight into how institutions define capstones, what they hope students learn from them, and the complex forces that motivate institutions to embrace this labor-intensive practice.

Discussion Questions

  • Although the Boyer Commission recommended that all undergraduate programs have a capstone, the findings in this chapter suggest that many institutions have not responded to the recommendation.
    • Discuss the benefits and challenges of requiring a capstone experience.
    • Considering the various ways that a capstone can be defined, examine what is done at your institution.  Do you believe your students have benefitted from the institution’s approach to the capstone experience?
  • The chapter presents ten themes that emerged from the institutional statements, each providing a different way of framing the required capstone. However, the most prominent theme is “integration and culmination.”  Why do you think this theme…
  • Implications for both faculty and administrators were discussed along with reflection questions focused on drivers, frames, and definitions. Based on your answers to these thought provoking questions, what do you believe to be the greatest need for faculty who are teaching capstones? For administrators interested in implementation of a capstone experience?