Regents want to make it easier for students to transfer among the state’s colleges; they’re changing class requirements to make it happen

As a college student, there is one piece of advice (perhaps more) that is almost always flawed — the information from your adviser about which classes will transfer to your new college.

The Kansas Board of Regents last week passed what some billed as a “historic” new policy that aims to nearly eliminate the now-common situation of Kansas students planning to transfer to another in-state school, only to find out several of their classes won’t transfer.

What’s the answer to that problem? Buckets, actually.

The Regents, who oversee higher education policy in Kansas, unanimously and enthusiastically approved a new policy that requires all community colleges and public state universities to offer the same general education curriculum that will consist of seven “buckets” of class options in broad categories ranging from math to arts and humanities.

“This is a chance to do something very meaningful and impactful for students across the state,” Daniel Archer, vice president of academic affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents, said ahead of last week’s vote. “There is something historical that can happen here.”

Archer highlighted that Kansas was the only state among 15 states in the middle section of America that did not have a state policy that directed a common set of courses to be taught at state universities, making them eligible to transfer to any other public university in the state.

The Regents approved a policy that includes 34 to 35 hours of common “general education” courses. Think of your standard college degree in two parts. There are a certain number of classes you must take that university leaders believe are necessary for any college-educated individual to have. Then there are certain classes you must take that are specific to your degree. The policy approved by the Regents seeks to create some uniformity in that first set of general classes.

Regents were told that there was some pushback among universities to the idea, but no university leader raised any objections as part of last week’s meeting.

“These were very, very hard conversations,” Archer said, noting that this was changing something that many universities had handled autonomously for more than 100 years.

Archer, though, said the change was becoming more needed as more students end up transferring at some point in their college careers.

“Students are more transient today than they have been before,” Archer said. “The days of a student parking at an institution and doing all 120 hours (of college credit) are pretty rare.”

The new general education requirements not only cover universities like KU, but also the two-year community colleges in the state. Regents officials have said that’s critical, as the Regents continue to promote using community colleges as a way to reduce the cost of a four-year degree by taking two years of classes at the lower tuition rates offered by community colleges. But that strategy only works if the community college classes end up transferring to a place like KU.

That may mean universities have to change their systems for the common good, some Regents said.

“There are times we have to think like a system and look at what helps the entire state,” Regent Jon Rolph said. “I really do hope this will help people move seamlessly in our system.”

The new general education system is expected to be in place for the fall 2024 school year. Here’s a look at the requirements and classes Regents settled on for the new general education curriculum.

• Six hours of English classes.

• Three hours of communications classes.

• Four to five hours of natural and physical science classes, with at least one class including a lab component. Classes in the natural and physical sciences include standard offerings such as biology, chemistry and physics, but also include astronomy, environmental science, zoology and several others.

• Six hours of social and behavioral sciences. Classes in that category include anthropology, criminal justice, economics, ethnic/gender studies, geography, political science, psychology, social work and others.

• Six hours of arts and humanities. Classes in that category include art, dance, cultural studies, general humanities, history, literature, modern and classical languages, music, philosophy, religion, theater and others.

• Six hours of courses left up to the discretion of the university or community college. Archer said, for instance, some institutions feel every student should have a computer science course, diversity course or personal finance course, among others. Leaving six hours up to the discretion of the institution will allow for those local preferences to be met, he said.

The new policy does allow universities to apply for exceptions, but Archer said he expected those to be rare.

Regents did ask whether the changes created any risk of lowering the quality of degrees granted in the system, given that universities sometimes require students to take a certain general education course with the belief that it will be helpful as they move on to more degree-specific courses. Regents were told systems are already in place to monitor how well transfer students perform at their new schools.

For instance, the state can track how well students who attended community colleges are doing in a four-year university upon transfer. Numbers so far show transfer students perform well, but if a downward trend emerges, the Regents can adjust the policy based on the data.

In addition, universities will continue to have the ability to require certain courses be taken to receive a certain degree. Take, for example, a community college student who took no physics classes but then transfers to a four-year university to get an engineering degree. Those students would be required to take physics classes — even though their general education requirement had been met — because physics is deemed to be a degree requirement for an engineer. What the new general education policy would prohibit, for example, is a university telling a student that an astronomy class cannot count toward any of their general education science requirements because astronomy is not one of the university’s chosen science fields.

Archer said he thinks the new policy particularly will help students who haven’t yet settled on a major but have taken one to two years of college classes with the belief that a certain set of classes will be required regardless of the major they settle on.

“We now are in a much better position to serve that student,” he said.


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