KU General Education Program Update

General Education is a significant part of nearly every undergraduate student's course of studies, regardless of the institution or major. The primary purpose of any General Education program is to provide students with essential skills, dispositions, and depth of knowledge across various disciplines.

Our General Education Committee and Assessment Committee were tasked 14 months ago with a difficult and important charge - to overhaul our general education and to transition it from 18 different programs, some requiring up to 60 credit hours, to a 42-hour program with common requirements for all students regardless of major.  Their objective was to better serve our students - to create a pathway that made it more likely that students would complete their degrees in 120 hours and, for as many as possible, in eight semesters.  This was especially important for transfer students and those current students who change majors. 

These committees went a step further by going beyond traditional models to a very progressive interdisciplinary, student outcome-based model wherein no department owns a class.  In addition, faculty across disciplines would have an opportunity to submit a course for inclusion in general education based on the content and student outcomes, as opposed to ownership in a given department. 

Certainly, most courses in general education will originate in their traditional areas. This new paradigm will allow exciting opportunities from faculty to work across disciplines, and for students to learn subject matter from perspectives that are more diverse.  I am convinced that this new model will be unique in the system and beyond, and will have a very positive impact on our students, faculty, and the broader educational community.

It has been a challenging process to put this model together, as change such as what is being advocated in this new general education model, often occurs very slowly in higher education.  While total buy-in was unlikely, it was hoped that the entities most involved with providing general education would be largely supportive.  I believe this to be the case. 

Obviously, the committees most directly involved in this process, the General Education and Assessment Committees, are very supportive.  Of the college curriculum committees, two committees were supportive, one against, and one tied.  Student Government supported this new initiative.  APSCUF was not supportive of the new general education proposal.  The University Senate, after much public debate, voted in favor of the proposal.  The committee that contractually recommends new curriculum to me, the University Curriculum Committee, voted in favor of the recommendation.  ChairNet voted in favor of the redesign (by a simple majority).

I accept the University Curriculum Committee's recommendation and approve the new general education proposal as submitted.  However, I am aware of a number of concerns that have been raised and I would like to address the major concerns below:

Timeline:  Some have asked that the process be delayed (for as many as three years).  I believe that the process followed in developing our new general education program has been exhaustive, with numerous opportunities available for groups and individuals to offer their opinions on the proposal.  To delay this process now would deny our students the opportunities provided by this new curriculum.  It would also show disregard to the numerous people who put countless hours and effort into getting this ready to be put in place for our students in fall 2018.  

The State System also required that a number of the changes are mandated to begin at this time.  There are a number of components of the initiatives that will be phased in (please see the report), and if additional adjustments are needed, they will be made.  This will ensure that there is no delay in implementing the plan as a whole.  

Whether the new general education program goes into effect in 2018 or 2020 (as some have advocated) there will be challenges and adjustment that will need to be made to adjust to those challenges.  It is time to move forward and get this done - not to delay and let this moment slip away.

Science Lab Requirement:  There has been much discussion about requiring a science lab of all incoming freshman.  The fact is that currently only around 25 percent of freshmen take a lab under our current general education program.  The expectation is that this will continue to be the case under the new program.  I note that there are a number of ways wherein more students could take science labs:  

  1. Colleges or departments could require their majors to take a lab.
  2. The science departments could only submit courses with labs to the new general education category.
  3. The science departments could add lab components to existing science courses, so as to ensure that students have a lab experience in all general education science classes.

Quantitative/Math Requirement:  Perhaps the greatest concern that has been raised is about the quantitative versus math requirement.  I'm convinced that there has to be a way of addressing these concerns so that all interests are met.  

While I expect that most courses in this area would come from the Department of Mathematics, I agree with the authors of the proposal that there are other departments that could also offer courses in the quantitative area that are of equal rigor, and that will well serve students in unique majors.  I believe the answer falls in a clearly-written learning outcome document for this area, with representation on the curriculum approval committees that will ensure that only courses that are clearly quantitative and rigorous, are accepted into the general education curriculum.  Perhaps specific math competencies can be written into the learning outcomes to ensure that non-math courses accepted into this area have the basic skills covered.  I note that colleges or departments can require their freshmen to take traditional math courses, if they believe it is in the best interest of their students.  

This is the time for innovation.  I hope that unique offerings will be allowed, as these courses may enhance the learning experience of our students, and the range of possibilities of instruction available to our faculty.  

Math placement will continue so that students can be placed in the appropriate course.  Departments could also choose to use math placement as a consideration for enrollment in a particular quantitative course.  

Technology Requirement:  The State System mandate states essentially that technology competency can be demonstrated by requiring specific classes, or by incorporating technology into the wider curriculum.  Our committees chose the latter, and required that technology not be a unique class, but incorporated into general education classes or program requirements.  It is certainly possible that colleges and departments could require specific technology courses if they feel these courses are the most appropriate.  

Again, this is the time for innovation.  I hope that unique technology education offerings within discipline-specific classes will be approved by the committees and departments, as these courses may enhance the learning experience of our students, and the range of possibilities of instruction available to our faculty.  

As also stated above, I believe that concerns in this area can be addressed by clearly- written learning outcome documents for this area.  This would include representation on the curriculum approval committees to ensure that only courses that clearly meet the learning objectives, and are rigorous, are accepted into the general education curriculum.  Each program should define the technology competency within their program and identify the course or courses that meet this competency.  In addition, departments should assess the student learning objectives as part of their program assessment.

"Race to the Bottom":  I have heard it said by some that the new general education curriculum will lack rigor and will be a "race to the bottom."  

The rigor in any program or class, has always been and will be, in the hands of the faculty.  It will be the faculty who will approve the new curriculum that will be placed in the categories and, of course, it will be the faculty who will be teaching the classes.  As I have said so often in my speeches, I hope that all of our classes will be rigorous and challenge the minds of our students, so as to enable them to grow and feel pride in a grade well-earned.  

The progressive nature of the new model, wherein no department owns a class or curriculum, displays a confidence in our faculty that all have the ability and commitment to quality and high standards in their teaching.  The safeguard to this quality is the curriculum process, wherein those serving on these committees must be vigilant, as should be the deans and chairs, and all others involved in the approval of curriculum and the offering of classes.  I believe that we are able to maintain, and enhance, the quality of our general education curriculum under this new model.

Implementation Concerns:  There have been concerns regarding how this new model will be implemented by next fall.  Let me explain what is being planned for implementation.  With my approval, many initiatives will be put in motion to ensure that much of the new program will be in place for fall 2018:

  1. The provost and deans have been planning for adjustments to staffing needs as necessary.  With the previous general education offerings in place for the time being, it is believed that staffing needs will be met without major disruption in the coming year.
  2. Concern has been raised about financial support during a year of financial strain on the university.  Reform of general education has been designated as a top funding priority for KU, and the resources will be available, as needed, in the transition.  Let me note that the number of hours students will be taking is decreasing in general education, and the overall number of hours students take will be the same (or, hopefully, go down as the new general education program will make it more likely students will finish in 120 hours).  Ultimately, since students will have more electives, we anticipate that majors and minors will increase, and we will have to be prepared to adjust staffing to meet these shifts and possible increases.
  3. The First Year Seminar (FYS) will be phased in over two semesters, and current submissions of FYS courses make us confident that we will have the necessary offerings.  The FYS was the one initiative that received support from all entities that submitted feedback.  Implementation efforts are underway. Mary Eicholtz, who ably led this effort, will continue as the general education coordinator through December 2018.  In this role she will work with departments, individual faculty and committees to help facilitate implementation.  As you may be aware, a workshop occurred over the winter break for faculty who are developing FYS courses.  This will be followed by a second workshop in May.  To facilitate the transition between our current General Education Program and the redesigned General Education Program, a list of provisional courses has been created with input from the department chairs.  UCC will work to approve new courses and program changes.  The Registrar's Office and Information Technology are working together to create the programming necessary to implement the redesigned General Education Program.  The General Education Assessment Committee will begin preparing for the implementation of the first assessments, which will be associated with the FYS and quantitative reasoning.   Lastly, the General Education Program Website will be updated following the Middle States review team visit.

I want to again express my appreciation for the contributions of so many people whose efforts have resulted in the creation of a redesigned General Education Program.  The initial proposal of the General Education Program Redesign Committee has been strengthened by the articulated concerns that resulted in the approved model. 

I am especially gratified by the tremendous level of engagement of the entire campus community during this process, and that the focus continued to be on our students' educational experience.  

Let me reiterate that we have a self-correction mechanism built into our process so that we will be able to address new concerns as they arise and continually improve this important component of a Kutztown University education. 

I firmly believe that this entire experience reflects well on our university and demonstrates the kind of community we have.

Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson