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General education changes near final approval

Changes to UCA’s general education program are one step away from being finalized. The UCA Board of Trustees is scheduled to consider final approval of the UCA Core at its next meeting Feb. 22.

Conrad Shumaker, director of general education, said he expects the board to pass the changes with implementation starting this fall.

The General Education Task Force appointed by Provost Steve Runge wrote the proposal in the summer of 2012, developing much of its framework through the Liberal Education and America’s Promise Initiative.

UCA Faculty Senate endorsed the general education proposal during a special meeting Jan. 9.

Following the meeting, the proposal went to the Council of Deans, Runge and lastly to President Tom Courtway for recommendation to the board.

Kevin Browne, faculty senate president, said it was important for the senate to weigh in on the proposal to show that progress is being made for general education.

The UCA Core would adopt a 38-credit-hour requirement for lower-division or general education courses.

Remaining Arkansas four-year public institutions have adopted the 35-hour state minimum core.

Shumaker said the general education program will move from a distribution model toward an outcomes model.

In the lower-division, a 16-credit-hour, first-year foundation would include six hours of written communication, four hours of laboratory science, three hours of mathematics and a first-year seminar course.

Upper division courses include a capstone course or experience that would evaluate critical inquiry and communication.

Current students would be grandfathered into the program with the choice of existing course options or new offerings.

Runge said changes have been requested by the Higher Learning Commission since 1990. HLC reports from 1990, 2000 and 2010 show concerns about UCA’s lack of a program that assesses clear outcomes.

“The primary thing is that we needed to have an assessable program in general education that actually looked at student outcomes and not at course level outcomes,” Runge said. “We have had spotty success with course level outcomes but we’ve never been able to assess this in a program.”
Jonathan Glenn, university accreditation liaison officer to HLC and chief information officer, said the HLC is not interested in solving problems by not addressing them in a significant manner.

The 2010 HLC visiting team report outlined “little evident planning related to diversity and internationalization” and highlighted the university’s lack of ability to “think broadly” about skills and attitudes implied in the current general education program.

“When the HLC starts using language like ‘the commission should pay attention to this’ as opposed to ‘the institution should pay attention to this,’ the screws are being tightened on us,” Glenn said.

HLC will visit UCA on Nov. 11 and 12 to evaluate whether the university has a fully operational program that meets standards set by the commission.

Act 747 of 2011 requires public institutions of higher learning to allow for baccalaureate degree programs with 120 credit hours for graduation.

Fourteen programs at UCA are currently above 120 credit hours, including nursing which requires 131 hours.

Shumaker said the reduction in lower division requirements would aid in reducing the burdens imposed by the state limit.

The General Education Council, after speaking with the College of Fine Arts and Communication during the December break, amended portions of the proposal. One fine arts course and one humanities course is now required, the term “ethical” was removed from Responsible Living course requirements and the three hour designation for capstone courses was eliminated.

Faculty members expressed concerns about the proposal during the faculty senate meeting Jan. 9.

James Hikins, communication department chair, said one of the consequences of the proposal is the ability for instructors from other departments to teach basic oral communication courses.

He called the concept “deeply flawed” and said the course has been “hijacked” by departments who should not teach the course.

“The rubric in the proposal isn’t even for a basic oral communication course,” Hikins said. “It’s for an old-time speech course.”

In regard to Composition I and II courses being taught by English professors, writing professor Lynn Burley said the courses should be taught by qualified instructors in the writing department.

“While in many people’s minds writing and English are one in the same, they are not despite that many [faculty members]share the same degrees,” Burley said.

Shumaker said the proposal is not singling out these particular departments as disciplines that are being invaded.

With the changes to general education, Runge said the university will be able to think more broadly about general education through new assessment methods, changes to course requirements and flexibility to change the program based on feedback and needs.

“We are being proactive, we will be in compliance with the law by the stated deadlines, we will do what is best for our students,” Runge said. “That was the charge that [the university]received.”

Shumaker said the goal of the changes is to make general education seem less like “hoops to jump through” and more like a cohesive set of courses that are beneficial to a student’s college experience.

After its anticipated final approval, the university will begin the process of implementation by hosting workshops to train faculty about new general education objectives, including the first-year seminar course.

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