Joint degrees add options

Laura Wright

On March 17, Sacha Kopp, an associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences, sent out an email to all CNS students asking them to give their opinion on the creation of a new degree a Bachelor of Science and Arts (abbreviated BSA). The proposed degree would allow students to join “a core experience in math/science” with a certificate program or minor from another college. “The idea is to put together a proposal that allows students to marry a math/science discipline with something else of their choosing,” Kopp said. 

Kopp, who has led the initiative, said conversations with students inspired him to propose the new degree plan. He remembers in particular a young woman who had majored in physics and realized close to graduation that she’d rather pursue a career in industry than in academic research. She believed she lacked the necessary business skills, yet she didn’t have the time to complete both her physics-major degree plan and the courses required for a Business Foundations certificate. 

“At the same time, it wasn’t the case that every last aspect of her physics degree was vital to her career plan. Lots of aspects of physics are useful in a technology world … but maybe not all the coursework in physics is absolutely essential for a Bachelors of Science degree,” Kopp explained. 

Had the student had available the option of completing a BSA degree, however, she would have been able to earn her degree in physics by completing a core science and math “component” that consisted of 48 hours of credit in math and science determined by the physics department. The rest of her degree would consist of 30 hours of non-science core requirements, 24 hours of electives and 15-18 hours of a minor or a certificate program. Those are a lot of numbers, but they add up to one thing: more flexibility to pursue her other interests while earning her physics degree. 

Why is this proposed new degree in the College of Natural Sciences a big deal? Because if the effort succeeds, it could inspire other colleges to make their degrees (and their minors and certificate programs) less confusing and more suitable for students’ needs and desires. The proposed BSA degree would require 15-18 hours in a minor or certificate program. Right now, the definition of “minor” varies widely across the campus, with individual colleges determining what constitutes a minor. A biology minor in the College of Engineering is not the same as a biology minor in the College of Liberal Arts or a biology minor in the College of Communication. A biology minor doesn’t even exist in the College of Natural Sciences, where students are not allowed to have minors at all, although they do have a wide range of certificate programs available to them. 

To add insult to injury, because of the variation in minor requirements across UT, minors don’t even appear on transcripts. The Biological Sciences Advising Center does, however, note on its website, “If you want to take enough courses to have the equivalent of a minor (typically 12 hours, six of which are upper division), you can do that and claim to have the equivalent of a minor on your resume, but your UT transcript will ONLY state that you had a major in biology.” Great. If I take the equivalent of a Spanish major (liberal arts classes are open to all students, after all), can I claim that on my resume too?

The new BSA degree doesn’t deal specifically with the standardization of minors, but it does encourage degrees that are modular, or that have a core curriculum component, a major component and a minor component. Kopp also stated that the minors students would complete as part of a BSA degree then appear on transcripts.

Though the BSA would only be offered to students inside the College of Natural Sciences, I hope that the effort Kopp has made in proposing the degree influences other colleges to look at similar measures. Not only has Kopp put forth a great proposal, he’s also been proactive in seeking student input. He has held focus groups and encouraged the Natural Sciences Council to host a town hall on the issue (which will be held next Monday, March 25).  

Before the degree is added to the catalog, it must be approved by a University-wide curriculum council, faculty council and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s plenty of levels at which to start a University-wide conversation about how we can make our degree plans less byzantine and more flexible. 

Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.