Revision of General Ed Requirements Proposed
A sweeping revision of the University's general education requirements — one that will provide students with a clear set of expectations from high school through their term at UConn and that offers a flexible curriculum to help them meet those expectations — will be presented to the University Senate later this semester.
The plan, developed after eight months of meetings by a 25-member task force, would require all UConn undergraduates to earn 18-19 credits from three broad content areas: memory and society, reason and science, and imagination and creativity. In addition, students will be expected to become proficient in five specific competencies: quantitative areas, computer use, information literacy, and second language, and writing.
The new plan seeks to give students a broad-based foundation, one that has applicability regardless of intended major. The proposal also makes it easier for students to navigate through the curriculum, by compressing the number of content areas required and by giving students the ability to bring general education credits with them if they change their major, school or college. Another benefit of the new plan is the emphasis on writing. Although "W" courses will be eliminated - as will "Q" and "C" courses - the writing requirements are more demanding and better integrated into a student's program.
The still-evolving plan will be presented to faculty from 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 11 in Room 143 of the Arjona Building, and from 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 19 in the Konover Auditorium of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, for additional input. The sessions will allow the committee to expand their discussions with faculty, dozens of whom have already been interviewed in small groups. The committee also has discussed its task with all the deans, many department heads, regional campus faculty and students.
The new requirements, says Susan Steele, vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction, would replace the current general education program, which was instituted in 1985. While those requirements have served a purpose, Steele says, times have changed and a number of problems have surfaced with the 15-year-old regulations.
Two primary concerns were that many students were choosing courses not for their educational value but because they simultaneously filled several general education requirements - for instance, one of the eight group requirements, such as literature and arts, culture and modern society, philosophical or ethical analysis, science and technology, or social science and comparative analysis - and one or more of the skill requirements, including writing, math and computer skills.
Further, although there are more than 500 courses carrying skill codes, nearly 80 percent of the "Q", or quantitative, courses were taught in only four departments, while many departments offered no "C", or computer, courses. Even the writing component is unevenly distributed, the proposal notes, with six departments sharing 45 percent of the 300 "W" courses.
Consequently, say Steele and Derek Allinson, co-chair of the committee, faculty in some areas, particularly in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, are overwhelmed with the number of students enrolled in their classes, while other schools and colleges have the capacity to handle far more students than they currently do.
"Institutionally, it's not reasonable for us to add more faculty and teaching assistants in some areas, when others are able and willing to do more," Steele said.
The 1985 requirements also created some problems for students who change majors, forcing many students to earn more than the 120 credits usually required for graduation.
The committee's proposal eliminates that flaw by creating three content areas that are broad enough to include courses from all schools and colleges, which makes it easy to transfer general education credits from one school to another. That is a key issue, says Steele, noting that 50 percent of UConn students enter college without a firm choice of major and, of the remaining 50 percent, half change their majors during their collegiate careers.
"The winners? The winners with the new requirements are the students," Allinson says.
The creation of courses whose focus is specific to a subject area but general in content also should eliminate a dilemma faculty currently face when instructing first-year students, some of whom are taking a course that begins a sequence leading to a degree while other students enroll in the class merely to meet the general education requirements.
"I'm a linguist by training," says Steele, "and I will teach a class of linguistics majors much differently than I'd teach a class of students who were never going to take another linguistics course. In the current situation, neither student is being well served."
The proposal also emphasizes the skill levels of incoming students, with future freshmen expected to be proficient in writing and quantitative skills when they arrive at UConn.
It also will be made clear that students are expected to become competent in computer use and library and information literacy (how to properly sift through a variety of research materials to discover the most pertinent, and factual, materials), and to be proficient in a second language by the time they graduate.
Demanding proficiency of incoming students, Steele says, is a major change, and must be communicated to the state's high schools, whose students comprise roughly 80 percent of UConn's enrollment. That can be done, she says, by working directly with the state's high schools, strengthening the current high school co-op program and, when a new set of requirements is in place, by keeping guidance counselors informed about how well their former students are performing.
Freshmen who enter the University with those competencies in hand will be able to move quickly through their academic programs, while those who do not will be able to receive extra instruction through tutors and other training opportunities available once the current School of Business building is converted into The Learning Center. Architects are currently fine tuning the design of the center, which is expected to open in August 2003.
"We benefit from the fact that we're a residential campus, and this support structure will reflect that," Steele says. "The Learning Center will be a short walk for everyone."
Following the two faculty meetings, Allinson says, the committee will probably update the document again, before presenting it to the University Senate's Courses and Curricula Committee. The committee members, in turn, will discuss the proposal and, possibly, suggest more changes before it is presented to the full Senate for discussion.
Allinson says he hopes the new requirements will be approved in spring 2001, and implemented in fall 2002.