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Archive for Monday, August 20, 2007

Hours requirement for KU college reconsidered

August 20, 2007

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Three questions with ... Joseph Steinmetz,

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Steinmetz discusses the strategic plan he released in late July.

Robyn Grayson will need five years to graduate from Kansas University.

It's not that she partied too much or switched her major. Instead, it's because the Juneau, Alaska, senior transferred schools, from the University of Wisconsin to KU. When she got here, she discovered that she was missing a lot of general education hours she needed for her biology degree.

"At my old school it was less," Grayson said. "When I came in, I had to play a lot of catch-up."

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, however, is considering a change that would make life easier for students such as Grayson.

Up for discussion is a decrease in the number of general education hours needed to graduate with a degree from the college, from 72 hours to 60.

Liberal Arts Dean Joseph Steinmetz said KU requires its students to complete more general education hours than any of its peer institutions. He said the 72-hour requirement can present a barrier for students trying to graduate in four years. KU is making a major push to get students to graduate in that time.

"When you lockstep people into 72 hours, it puts the burden on us to offer the courses," he said. "I want to be able to say it's not our fault if students take more than four years."

Overall, only about 31 percent of students graduate from KU in four years, according to data from 2005, the most recent year available.

The discussion of whether to reduce the number of hours came as a part of the dean's effort to formulate a comprehensive plan for the future of the college. The strategic plan, released last month, considers what the college does well and where it needs to improve.

Overall, Steinmetz said, the group found the general education program healthy.

But a goal emerged to give students more flexibility to pursue another minor or perhaps even a double major. The reduction in the number of general education hours would not reduce the total number of hours needed to graduate.

Whether the proposal goes into effect by fall 2008 or later, though, will be determined by the college's Committee on Undergraduate Studies and Advising and the dean's Student Advisory Committee.

Chris Crandall, psychology professor, will chair CUSA. He was part of the group that recommended a reduction in general education hours.

Crandall says the college's general education requirement is 25 percent to 50 percent higher than peer schools, such as the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Oregon.

Going into his 16th year as a KU professor, Crandall said it was time to at least look at the requirements and determine whether there is a way to pare them.

"The desire to increase requirements was driven by good ideas," he said. "All of the motives for increasing these requirements have been good, but you have to do a value trade-off."

As an example of the unwieldy nature of the requirement, Crandall cited the human biology degree, which Grayson is pursuing.

"During your four years at KU," he said, "there's room for exactly one elective."

While students get some choices in what classes they take to fulfill the general education requirements, he said, generally speaking, there is only room for one class that does not fill a box on a degree form.

"We're thinking maybe there's too much written out for them," he said.

It's still too early to say what changes will be made, Crandall said. English, math and foreign language requirements, however, are unlikely to face any alterations.

Most changes are likely to come either from allowing classes to count for two requirements or from reducing the number of social science and humanities courses from three to two.

"I don't want the wrong people to think we've made up our minds," Crandall said. "There's a lot of discussion between here and what we recommend to the team."

While the change is significant, he points out it's only a change of about 10 percent of the overall degree requirement.

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