Thursday, September 09, 2010

You Could Convene a Committee Or You Could Just Ask Me

Got some sort of email sent to the whole university today about our quest to be one of the very best universities in the entire world. Based on the size of the goals and the silence about the resources to be devoted to them, if they pull this off it's going to make the miracles performed by Jesus look like amateur hour.

One nagging issue is that our retention and graduation rates suck. How to get more students through without spending any more money?

I know the answer to this one! Make the gen-ed requirements much, much simpler. All that is required in terms of gen-ed is: "The institution identifies college-level competencies within the general education core and provides evidence that graduates have attained those competencies."

Keep the number of hours of gen-eds as low as possible. Instead of having specific requirements (like "must take one philosophy course from this list, one music course from that list..."), change it to broad categories (like "must take three courses from the arts and humanities"). And by default put every single course in the university on (at least) one of the gen-ed lists; make it so that departments need to justify taking their courses off the list of things that count.

When every class you take gets you closer to graduation -- even if you're not good at planning ahead -- your chances of graduating are increased. When you can choose from hundreds of courses to fulfill a requirement instead of the four on "the list," you're more likely to have a positive feeling about the courses that you're taking; it might make you more likely to actually go to class and learn something. And when we stop making the honors students take the stupid classes on the stupid gen-ed list, they're going to be more likely to stick around instead of transferring out. And if we no longer require everyone to take two semesters of math, there is going to be a lot less failing going on. (And I do not believe that math is the only department to have ever hired alarming adjuncts to meet the enrollment demands of required gen-ed classes.)