Universities in South Dakota could soon have similar graduation requirements, making it easier for students to transfer between state schools.
The Academic Affairs Council, which is made up of vice presidents of Academic Affairs from each of the public universities, has been discussing at length for the past year how to better facilitate transfer students that decide to attend a different state school.
One of the biggest reasonings for this action, officials say, is because there can be a lot of variance in the general education requirements from school to school.
USD Provost Jim Moran, a member of the council, said there are a few different options they’re assessing to make general education requirements more streamlined within the South Dakota Board of Regents system.
“One of the key drivers was how we facility transfer both within the system and also transfer outside the system as students come in,” he said. “Being more receptive to the idea that although each of our (university’s) general education requirements may be different, each of them have academic integrity and we are accepting of the academic integrity (of other schools) even though they might not have this particular class.”
As is stands, the number of required general education credits varies among each school – ranging anywhere from 30 to 41 credit hours, Moran said. The current plan is to reduce the amount of credits across the board to 30 hours.
The SDBOR dictates what most of those general education credits are, known as system graduation requirements. The rest of the requirements are known as institutional graduation requirements, where each individual university gets to set their own standards.
Paul Turman, SDBOR vice president for Academic Affairs, said the council is also reevaluating the learning outcomes of those general credits.
“When it came to institutional graduation requirements what we were starting to see is that because of the uniqueness that existed at individual campuses, when students were moving within the system those specific institutional graduation requirements were having an adverse effect on the number of credit hours they needed to complete if they transferred,” he said.
This “adverse effect” has increased in the last decade partly because of the rise of online classes, which allows students to take classes from many schools at once, Turman said.
To offset that challenge, the council is looking to implement a new education model known as LEAP, or Liberal Education and America’s Promise.
The model focuses on six key areas, which includes written communication, oral communication, quantitative literacy, science, arts and humanities and social sciences. With the new model, the SDBOR would dictate universities require a minimum of three credit hours from each of those areas for a total of 18 credit hours.
The remaining 12 credit hours would be left to the discretion of each university, but would be recognized as completed general education requirements among all regental schools if a student was to transfer.
“We don’t focus so much on the specific courses as opposed to ‘Did you meet the concepts?’ of what we’re trying to define in terms of general education,” Moran said.
“… An important discussion has been how do we enable more students to move through without additional cost and at the same time manage a quality education.”
From a USD standpoint, Moran said the next step of this process is to bring together a group of campus faculty, administrators and possibly students to begin discussion about what those 12 credit hours should be. Similar discussions will be organized by the other members of the council at their respective universities.
“Every faculty believes their discipline is the most important, and rightly so, and at the same time there are the practical issues of redistribution of student credit hours across the different colleges and units,” Moran said.
In addition to changes to general education requirements, the Academic Affairs Council is looking to replace the proficiency exam, called the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, with “a more robust and forward-looking assessment strategy for students and for the system.”
“What we’re looking to do is using samples of student work to do the assessment,” Turman said. “We’d like to eliminate the proficiency exam and replace it with a more comprehensive assessment strategy for the entire system.”
Currently, students who have completed 48 credit hours must take the exam, which assesses students’ writing, math, reading and science reasoning skills. The objective of the test is to make sure students are meeting the SDBOR’s learning outcomes.
“The scope of what we were looking for and the level of analysis (of the CAAP) didn’t tell us whether or not the students were showing the competencies that we are talking about,” Moran said.
While changes to general education requirements and doing away with the proficiency exam are still in the early stages of discussion, Turman said if all goes well, the changes could go into effect as soon as the fall of 2017, assuming the SDBOR votes in favor of the changes.