Officials at Kansas University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences said they were happy to help 93-year-old Margaret Shirk earn a degree that she never applied for seven decades ago.
Shirk walked down the hill and finished all her courses, she just never applied for her degree. Under the existing policy, she was able to use her requirements from the 1930s to obtain her degree in the 21st century.
But a new policy would prevent her — and many others who leave school just a few hours shy of a degree — from earning that degree without fulfilling the current degree requirements.
The new policy essentially places a 10-year time limit on using the requirements from the student’s date of admission, said Kim McNeley, assistant dean of liberal arts and sciences, unless they stay continually enrolled in school.
“Sometimes, folks think about a liberal arts and sciences degree and think it’s the same thing as it was 100 years ago,” McNeley said. “We don’t think that’s the case.”
The requirements have changed over the decades. Math requirements are much stricter today than in the past, and elements such as a course in non-Western culture have been added. For employers, especially, she said, the college wants to ensure that degrees issued from KU are all comparable to each other, and represent that a student has learned a similar set of skills.
If a student is re-admitted 10 years or more after the initial degree-seeking term, the student must use the most current set of requirements. Such time limits are common in KU’s professional schools, but have been lacking in the college of liberal arts and sciences, which houses the largest number of KU students, McNeley said.
Robert Sorem, associate dean for undergraduate studies in KU’s School of Engineering, said all readmitted engineering students must meet the current school requirements, but added it’s seldom a major issue for students.
Students in the college will be grandfathered in to the old rules, McNeley said, provided they apply for the summer session. The deadline to apply is May 24 for readmitted students. She said the college had tried to reach out to as many people as possible who would be affected by the change.
“Once they hit 90 hours, we stay in contact every semester,” McNeley said of students who left in good academic standing, making sure that students understand their options for readmission and to check on their plans.
The college doesn’t have contact information for all former students, she said, but has reached out to the ones whose information they had.
Even if the students have to use new requirements, their old coursework would still be counted, so they’re not starting from zero, McNeley said.
Jim Yonally, a former state representative who is Shirk’s son-in-law, said that while he would have been disappointed in KU’s decision not to grant Shirk a degree — “She earned it,” he said — he would have understood the university’s reasoning.
“I earned an Ed.D. in 1972. With that degree, I would be qualified to be a superintendent,” he said. “But woe to the school district that would hire me today.”