Faculty Senate hears proposal to drop gen ed credit hour minimum from 42 to 33


Matthew Kelly

Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, director of the WSU School of Music, speaks at the first Faculty Senate meeting of the fall semester. He said the school could use more flexibility in designing degree programs.

The Wichita State Faculty Senate heard a proposal during their first meeting of the semester Monday to reduce the general education credit hour minimum from 42 to 33 hours.

The Kansas Board of Regents requested in 2017 that universities cap degree programs at 120 total credit hours to promote on-time degree completion.

“Several majors at the university had to cut requirements in their major — change their degrees — in order to get close to . . . the 120 that KBOR wants us to get to,” Faculty Senate President Jeff Jarman said.

Some of those majors include biomedical, mechanical, and aerospace engineering; music education; music composition; and jazz performance, Jarman said. Reducing gen ed requirements would give majors more flexibility in designing degrees.

The Higher Learning Commission only requires gen ed programs of at least 30 hours.

Sen. Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, director of the School of Music, said majors in his school have seen such drastic credit reductions over the last 15 years that their degree programs no longer include electives.

“We are giving our students the best education we can under the structure that we have now, but it’s not the best education that they could get,” Sternfeld-Dunn said. “We have bled our stone dry. I mean, I have nothing left to give.”

The Gen Ed Committee’s proposal would preserve basic skills classes while reducing additional humanities, social sciences, and math/natural sciences course requirements from two classes to one.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Andrew Hippisley voiced his concerns that the proposal could compromise a robust liberal arts education.

“Are we underselling students in terms of a well-rounded education?” Hippisley asked.

“Take a student from engineering. On the one hand, you want that student to graduate and suddenly, engineering has had to reduce to 120 credit hours and they’re scrambling. On the other hand, the engineer is in a university — not a training college — a university with a liberal arts and sciences college with people who teach literature, history, people who teach music and performance.”

Engineering Sen. Roy Myose said WSU’s College of Engineering can’t keep up with Kansas State and the University of Kansas when it has to keep slashing credit hour requirements for majors.

“KU and K-State have 9-12 credit hours more of (engineering) major content than us, and we are limited by KBOR to reduce our credit hours,”  Myose said. “I’d like to ask if there is any other program here on campus who is willing to have their major coursework be 9-12 hours less than similar programs at KU and K-State. That’s the problem that we’re facing.”

The Gen Ed Committee conducted a survey asking faculty members what the gen ed credit hour minimum should be. The survey had 312 responses, roughly 60% of the faculty by Jarman’s estimation.

The survey found that 40.1% of respondents supported dropping the minimum to as low as 30 credit hours. The second most popular response was 36 hours at 28.4%, while 33 and 39 hours garnered 8.6% and 4.8%, respectively.

Overall, 18.2% of respondents supported maintaining the current 42-credit-hour gen ed minimum. A college-by-college breakdown revealed that LAS faculty were the only group that expressed plurality support — 37 of 96 — for maintaining the 42-hour minimum.

Faculty Senate will discuss the Gen Ed Committee’s proposal again at their next meeting on Monday, Sept. 23.

In April, faculty approved a First-year Seminar requirement that will go into effect for the 2021-2022 academic year. Seminars, which can be proposed and developed by all six of WSU’s academic colleges, count towards a tier-two general education requirement in the arts, humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences — as determined by the Gen Ed Committee.