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September 21, 2016

UMass announces changes to general education requirements

Gen Ed GraphStarting next fall, general education classes at UMass are going to get a little harder. The University of Massachusetts Faculty Senate voted during their meeting last Thursday to change the general education requirements for incoming freshmen next fall.

The required number of general education classes will drop from 13 to 10, while their value increases from three to four credits. There will also be a new upper-level, integrative general education class requirement, according to information on the Senate’s website.

The new requirements will cut one biological or physical science class, one literature or arts class, and one additional social world class. Writing and math requirements will remain unchanged.

In order to make up for this, the remaining required classes will add additional labs, discussion groups, or assignments in order to qualify for an additional credit, according to a Senate report. The proposed changes are being implemented sooner than previously expected because they will allow the University to serve the same number of students while offering fewer classes, thereby compensating for little or no hiring during difficult financial times.

Senate Secretary Ernest May said the move betters UMass’ undergraduate program.

“The most important thing is that this is an improvement in our undergraduate curriculum, not a budget saving measure,” said Ernest May, Senate Secretary. “You’ll be taking a smaller number of more intense courses. It should make your life as a student more productive, more gratifying perhaps.”

According to May, the extra credit will not increase actual class time, but rather will be earned through other forms of additional work.

“It could mean applying lessons to real world problems, increasing engagement with material,” said May. “It’s to be a deeper experience.”

The recommended changes come from a special General Education Task Force (GETF) assigned to “make recommendations for improving general education at UMass Amherst,” according to a Senate report.

Provost Charlena Seymour and the faculty Senate created the GETF in 2007, bringing together a joint force of faculty, administrators, and graduate students. They discovered that many students and faculty members lacked understanding of the value of the general education requirements. After reviewing and evaluating courses, surveys, and an Association of American Colleges and Universities report, the GETF determined that this would be the best course of action.

When asked, students on campus had mixed opinions about the changes.

Carly Davis, a sophomore majoring in Communications, feels the changes won’t necessarily be a good thing.

“I think that you should take the same amount of Gen Eds,” said Davis. “The purpose of Gen Eds is to diversify, so students can dabble in a little of everything. A lot of people come to UMass undeclared. These classes are a chance for them to experience what UMass has to offer.”

Robert S. Feldman, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, thinks it will be worth this decreased variety.

“I think in the long run the greater depth of thinking that’s going to go into the courses, and the ability to concentrate more fully outweighs the danger of taking fewer courses,” he said. “It’s a good trade off.”

Other students were more positive about the new requirements. “I think 10 [classes] is better than 13,” said junior political science major Wilhemina Agbemakplido. “Also, integrating Gen Eds into upper level classes could be a good idea—kill two birds with one stone. On the other hand, four-credit courses might be more difficult, so that might be bad.”

Most of the faculty seems to be in support of the move, according to May. Professors have a first deadline of October 15 to come up with proposals of how to add the extra credit hour, in order to get material into the catalogue and spire in time for next year.

In some cases, courses already contain enough material to warrant the extra credit.

“Some classes require more work than others,” said Professor Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Sociology Department Chair, when asked what kinds of changes are being discussed. “For the courses that already require a great deal of reading and writing, our sense is that they probably are equivalent to four credit courses already. The issue really is, for the other courses, what additional work would bring them up to that level. Probably there would be some increase in reading and writing, so it would be in fact more depth in the course.”

Some students, however, doubt that the increased depth will be of much value. Senior Communications major Joseph Johnson likes the idea of reducing the number of required courses, thinking it might make it easier for some students to graduate without having to stay extra semesters. But that’s the only benefit he sees.

“I don’t really think it will affect the amount people will get from it,” he said. “They still have their other classes and work and stuff, so they’re not going be able to put any more time into them.”

May emphasized this is not a one time thing, but rather a process that needs to be engaged. The Senate has formed an Ad Hoc Committee on General Education Revision and Implementation (GERICO) that will be monitoring the process. Ongoing assessments will also determine how well students respond to the new system.

Students are encouraged to submit their comments to senate@senate.umass.edu.

Patrick Giddings can be reached at dgidding@student.umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “UMass announces changes to general education requirements”
  1. Justin says:

    Your major should be your focus, not GenEds. Now if a student does poorly in a GenEd class, their GPA will be punished because the grade will weigh more. Someone who came to college intending to focus on English because they are weak in the sciences will now have to take science classes that weigh more than the English classes in their major. We are naive to think that this is not solely an excuse to have less teachers on the payroll.

  2. Karen, UMass Alum and PhD says:

    I really doubt that this is anything other than an effort not to hire more faculty. It’s no secret that the Five Colleges are not hiring right now. For UMass, which has seen a significant increase in enrollment, this means that there are not enough professors for its students. This move to cut the number of Gen Eds goes against long-existing pedagogical reasons behind the Gen Ed program, particularly that of introducing students to a breadth of subject matter. It’s no coincidence that UMass has suddenly seen a need to re-evaluate the Gen Ed program at the same time that it is determined not to hire new faculty. Don’t be fooled.

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