The continued drive for “seamless articulation” threatens advanced course work in Kansas.
Over a decade ago, a community college teacher requested that his entomology course be accepted as equivalent to a 4-year university entomology course. His training as an entomologist capable of teaching college entomology was solid. But the course had no prerequisite courses. A student fresh out of high school could take it their freshman year. The university entomology course required introductory biology with lab, and then zoology with lab, and then ecology with field ecology. It was taken by seniors and graduate students preparing for careers in wildlife biology, medicine, or veterinary science.
Prerequisites matter. The solid university entomology course built on top of those required courses. But the freshman students lacked that important sequence of 12 credit hours of course work. To learn entomology at that upperclass level, the community college students would need an additional three semesters of prerequisite biology they did not have. The advanced course also relied on biological field experiences, maturity and skills the beginning students lack.
The Kansas university did not approve the course as equivalent back then. But today, they would be forced to accept it.
The Board of Regents Transfer and Articulation Council (TAAC), formed in 2011, is in charge of increasing college course articulation in Kansas. Some call it “consensus building.” I consider it “coercion.” And TAAC is expanding their efforts beyond the narrow collection of general education courses to the much wider array of freshman and sophomore courses.
The important differences I describe above cannot be used to separate the beginning and advanced courses because TAAC does not recognize prerequisites. TAAC is also oblivious to a second important difference: the mode of delivery. There may not be a significant difference between a teacher writing on a blackboard or writing on a “smart screen.” But there is a major difference between students performing genuine, supervised, hands-on wet labwork versus viewing computer simulations.
These conflicts have been ongoing in the biology section of the annual Core Competency meetings held each fall by TAAC to force faculty from each Kansas public university, community college and tech college to homogenize, transfer and accept courses based on uniform “core outcomes” for various freshman and sophomore courses.
This debate came to a head over microbiology lab courses. While some community college microbiology courses are rigorous, some are not. The “baby” microbiology course that may train a nursing assistant in a two-year associate degree program is only a little more rigorous than some high school microbiology courses. Meanwhile, universities preparing students in pre-med or pre-pharmacy programs put far more rigor into their microbiology courses. Biology faculty adopted the professional standards of the American Society of Microbiology that specified prerequisite courses and genuine laboratory work.
TAAC doesn’t recognize those professional requirements. By a 24-to-4 vote several years ago, Kansas school representatives held with the requirement that the labs be real time, wet and supervised—thus ruling out acceptance of the few so-called "online labs” offered in Kansas.
The TAAC representative said they would just keep bringing it back until the faculty approved it.
And the faculty said they would just keep voting it down. As a result, microbiology remains shelved.
TAAC staff warn that seamless articulation is demanded by legislators who want their children to be able to transfer all their course work from Kansas institution to institution.
Faculty question whether any legislator really wants to be the first patient under a surgeon’s knife who was trained on fake labs.
TAAC has had five years to address basic general education courses. Their job is finished. They do not need to water down the rest of the Kansas college curriculum.