Weakening the core

Carisa Nietsche

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently released recommendations that would change the way higher education institutions across the state approach the core curriculum. UT submitted an institutional response to the coordinating board last week, and students submitted an additional response Monday, the last day for public commentary on the recommendations.

With the goals of transferability, work force readiness and affordability in mind, the coordinating board seems to be overlooking the important objective of quality in its decisions. Of the three major changes, two affect the way in which students would experience the core.

The first recommendation of the board creates six core objectives that would be fulfilled in several courses throughout the core. These core objectives are reminiscent of the flag system adopted at UT. The University chose to implement flags in various courses throughout a student’s degree plan to keep the quality of core courses focused on the courses’ subjects. UT and the coordinating board have the same end goals in mind but two different approaches to achieving these goals. The University knows its students better than the coordinating board and should consequently be able to apply these objectives in a way that is productive for its students.

In the new, proposed core curriculum, these objectives would be fulfilled through the core curriculum instead of a student’s degree plan. An extreme example of this can be found in the application of the communication objective. The communication objective would include written, visual and oral communication and would be required in math courses in the new core. A math class struggling to fulfill requirements that are not directly relevant to the content of the course itself may inhibit the ability to actually teach math, thus reducing the quality of the course itself. With what seems like an arbitrary application, quality courses seem to be low on the board’s priority list. With countless examples of a single course having to fulfill too many objectives in the new core, these recommendations put UT at risk of diluting the core curriculum.

Currently, six hours of the core curriculum are up to the discretion of each individual institution. Many institutions, including UT, fulfill these six hours with interdisciplinary introductory courses, such as the UGS seminar course. The coordinating board is mandating institutions to utilize current core subject areas — such as English language, science and technology or U.S. history — to fulfill these hours. Essentially, the UGS courses would be eliminated from the core, and the money used to create them would go to waste. Further, these courses serve a specific purpose in the undergraduate curriculum: to introduce students to University-level coursework.

In addition to affecting a student’s educational experience at the University, the changes would be expensive to implement. Assessment plans prove to be even more expensive, and UT would receive little help from the board in implementing and paying for these. With affordability for students at the bottom line of most decisions made in higher education, these changes would cost institutions and students even more money.

This seems like another typical scenario in modern higher education. Institutions with authority continue to micromanage UT in ways that could hinder the quality of education offered to students and force the University to bear the burden of paying the bill at the same time it is being pushed to become more affordable.

Nietsche is president of Senate of College Councils.