UNM plan seeking to revolutionize general education program receives big endorsement

By David Lynch

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A UNM report which recommends enhancing the university’s core curriculum and general education initiative as a whole cleared a major hurdle Tuesday afternoon in the form of a near-unanimous endorsement from Faculty Senate members.

The report was created by the General Education Task Force – commissioned by the Faculty Senate in late 2016 – as a response to 2017 legislation that seeks to streamline the credit-transfer process for higher-ed students in New Mexico.

“We saw this as an opportunity to revitalize the general education program; the core curriculum that we already offer,” said Pamela Cheek, interim associate provost for curriculum at UNM, and the original chair of the task force.

The report states that its dual-phase proposal is necessary to help the university maintain a competitive edge as that credit-transfer system is in the process of being implemented. Once it is, it would allow students to move those core credit hours between New Mexico institutions in bulk – easing the frustration that can sometimes come for people transferring from Central New Mexico Community College to UNM, as an example.

But Cheek said the legislation was merely a “catalyst” for discussions surrounding further evolution of UNM general education – one that better communicates to students the value of core curriculum courses when taken in concert with each other.

The report also foreshadows a difficult situation for UNM should it not fully commit to the proposed two phases, saying, “it is likely that general education at UNM will fail to provide an integrated foundation for student achievement, despite being compliant with state requirements.”

The task force spent about a year working on the report. In that time, its members conducted focus groups with various faculty and nearly 50 students to compile feedback about core curriculum courses and general education as a whole.

According to Cheek, those meetings with students showed that they typically don’t view general education as a program, but rather a set of courses that they simply “have to get out of the way.”

The responses provided in the report backs that perspective of some students, some of which called core classes “useless” and “a waste of time.”

But while Phase One of the General Education Task Force’s proposed plan slightly restructures core curriculum requirements so as to be in compliance with state legislation, Phase Two involves detailed steps to ensure the value of general education as an entire program – versus just individual courses – is accurately conveyed to students.

“It’s a harder lift, but it’s an essential lift for UNM to recognize the excellence of its general education to adopt Phase Two as well,” Cheek told Faculty Senate representatives Tuesday.

“We don’t want to be left behind by smaller schools that can adapt quickly,” Cheek said, adding that Phase Two involves a necessary recognition that state officials have essentially put UNM general education on an equal plane with those of other in-state institutions.

That second phase of the plan, which would be implemented over three years, combines UNM and national research on student success when it comes to job preparation and fostering an attitude for life-long learning – things Cheek said are products of an evolved general education system.

After the vote by representatives, Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle called the effort put into the report by the task force “tremendous.”

“The level of detail they had to put into it to retain our uniqueness, but still make it so transferability was possible….I couldn’t be more pleased,” she said. “I think we need to spend a little more time on the details of the Phase Two part, but the Phase One, hands down a slam-dunk.”

The task force’s two-pronged proposal has already picked up endorsements from the Deans’ Council and Acting Provost Rich Wood. It’s expected to be presented to the Board of Regents in an upcoming meeting.

“(We are) creating momentum out of legislative changes that originally felt one-size-fits-all,” Cheek said.

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