Texas education board adopts new regulations, affecting UT courses

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The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted changes to required courses at state institutions at a meeting Thursday. The board denied UT Executive Vice-President and Provost Steven Leslie’s requests to delay adopting the new regulations.

The intent of the changes is to increase course consistency to ease the transfer of credits between institutions, but UT administrators have said the changes threaten the signature course program.

Current state regulations require all students in Texas to take 36 hours of core classes in specific subjects. Individual institutions must determine six more required hours for all students, which makes up the 42 hours in the state-wide core curriculum. At UT-Austin, three of the six hours must be a first-year signature course.

The changes adopted Thursday, which will be implemented by 2014, mandate all 42 required course hours to fall within specified subjects. Signature courses currently do not fall within any of those subjects. The coordinating board says this may require the University to reorganize its signature courses to continue requiring them for all students.

The University first offered signature courses in 2008 and in 2010 started to require all students to complete one of the courses.

Larry Abraham, Associate Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, which provides the first-year signature courses, said he has serious concerns about the future of the multidisciplinary courses because they do not fit under one category in the core curriculum. He said the courses benefit students by introducing first-year students to UT’s academic expectations and help students choose a major.

“We want students to study difficult and challenging questions with top professors,” Abraham said. “The strength comes from seeing multiple perspectives.”

Abraham serves on the Undergraduate Education Advisory Committee, which recommended the new changes. He said before he served, the committee did not contain a UT-Austin representative for a few years, and the recommendations had already been finalized.

“Most of the work was done when we were not represented in the committee,” Abraham said.

Chair of the coordinating board, Fred Heldenfels IV, said there is time to further discuss first-year signature courses because the changes will be implemented in 2014.

“Clearly the classes are of great value, very innovative,” Heldenfels said. “I just fail to see how they won’t fit with these rule changes.”

Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said although the board adopted the change to mandate 42 hours of core curriculum, it is committed to work with UT to ensure the rule does not negatively affect first-year courses.

“I think it’s a matter of having more in-depth conversations about how those programs can fit into [the new regulations],” Chavez said. “We’re not looking to dismantle this system that UT-Austin has set up.”

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: State Education changes threaten signature courses