Again there is a push to make college coursework uniform across the state. Whenever a student complains about difficulty transferring a course taken at other institutions, we soon see plans resurrected for “seamless articulation.” The Kansas Board of Regents is currently contemplating the uniformalization of courses: 1) for all general education to transfer from two-year colleges to the four-year universities, 2) for transfer of upper division courses across the four year universities, and 3) for community college courses to transfer for major programs at the four-year universities.
Kansas universities have good reasons to not always accept transfer credit from another institution. And it is not a matter of wanting to charge more tuition.
One major reason is that we do not offer the same programs. Courses that may be adequate preparation for a two-year nursing program may not begin to meet the rigor required of a four-year registered nursing program. With over 60 percent of our college students changing major at least once, to insist that a course that was adequate for one program be accepted for a more rigorous program will lower all programs to the lowest common denominator.
A second factor is teacher quality. Teach a few years in Kansas and you will recognize that students coming from College A are well prepared in Program A, but similar students from College B have not gone beyond high-school-level work, although they took a course with the same title. Some schools have excellent faculty, programs, facilities and leadership. Some do not.
Quality university programs have solid teachers who have been observed and evaluated by their peer faculty, and given tenure based on direct class observation and the professional judgement of colleagues in that discipline. But in this new tuition-driven atmosphere, some faculty are now being hired by community college and university administrators who are unable to make judgements of teaching. This is especially rampant for outreach and online courses. Faculty at those institutions are not happy with administrators usurping their academic quality control responsibilities.
Universities that refuse to accept the resultant questionable coursework are protecting the quality of their own graduates.
Requiring common syllabi, uniform course numbers, common tests, or asserting they achieve the same course objectives, does not touch the faculty-quality problem. University and community college faculty, meeting to coordinate “core competencies,” have met time-and-again and sent reports to the Board of Regents asking for enforcement of the minimal credentialing of instructors and faculty oversight of adjunct teacher hiring, but to no avail.
Before drastic actions are taken that will destroy current solid programs at Kansas universities, it would be wise to examine the effects “seamless articulation” had in a state to the west of Kansas. Under legislative mandate, their freshman and sophomore courses had to use the same course numbers, syllabi and tests at community colleges and public universities. Realizing that their unique programs would now only begin at the junior level, the public universities hired part-time adjuncts to teach those entry courses. Hire-a-profs who drove in to teach a course and leave were economical. But it left the remaining half the faculty to do all of the advising, program sponsoring, committee work, and research. Separating faculty into lower-class assembly line teachers and upper-class research faculty was a disaster that produced discount-store education.
The best colleges and universities of Kansas have good-but-unique courses taught by good-but-unique teachers. The simpleminded drive to standardize courses, syllabi and testing will only serve to drag the best programs down to the lowest level. Uniform and generic products may be a way to run a cheap discount store, but a quality university system needs quality teachers and unique programs to educate unique students.