Plans are in the works to change the University of Minnesota’s number of required liberal education themes back from five to four — even for students who started college under the old rule.
Under the five-theme rule, which went into effect in fall 2010, students in largely-sequential majors like nursing or engineering have trouble organizing schedules to graduate on time, said Peter Hudleston, chairman of the Council on Liberal Education.
The new measure, approved by the University Faculty Senate last week, would maintain the five distinct themes in the liberal education curriculum but would only require students to take classes in four.
“I think it’s an absolute win for students because it’s simply going to make it a bit easier in negotiating the curriculum at the University,” said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.
Currently, students must take five courses in areas like “technology and society” and “social justice.” They have to take seven core courses like arts and humanities or physical science with a lab. In addition, students complete four writing intensive courses.
Many courses fulfill a combination of theme, core and writing intensive requirements. Still, fitting everything in can be tough.
“I’ve found it to be a struggle, because my major gives a four-year plan, so it basically tells you which classes you have to take every semester,” said Melissa Nerem, a sophomore trying to balance a Spanish minor on top of her mechanical engineering major.
Nerem said she only has six openings for liberal education credits in her graduation plan so fitting everything in might take some finagling.
She came into the University with some Advanced Placement credits, but said she would have taken more AP classes in high school had she known it would alleviate her college load.
“Basically for our students, they have five or six slots in their degree plan to fit those in, which means they really have to double-dip everything,” said Amy Gunter, the associate academic adviser in the College of Science and Engineering.
Students double-dip by taking liberal education classes that fit both a theme and a core.
Gunter and other academic advisers support the change, she said.
“From our perspective,” she said, “it just offers students more flexibility in their scheduling of courses.”
McMaster expects the change to be approved by the necessary policy committees in the spring. Hudleston said he hasn’t heard any opposition to requiring four themes, adding that advisers have been especially supportive.
“I would be surprised if it was not approved,” McMaster said.
Students who started at the University under the five-theme rule would only have to fulfill four now, he said.
When the 2010 curriculum requirements were up for debate, the CLE evaluated each major and determined timely graduation was possible with the five-theme requirement. But some council members worried that requirements in some majors would make planning difficult for students.
“If you look at engineering and you look at other majors around the campus, there’s not much wiggle room,” McMaster said.
The fall 2010 changes came after a re-evaluation of theme and core courses, designed to strengthen the students’ liberal education. Administrators added technology and society to theme requirements of civic life and ethics, diversity and social justice in the United States, the environment and global perspectives — some of which changed names or shifted focus.
Courses must meet stiffer requirements to fulfill the themes, which are now fully integrated into the course, said Hudleston of the Council on Liberal Education. Before, the themes only had to comprise a third of the material. This resulted in fewer classes that fulfilled both a theme and a core requirement — and fewer options for students.
Nerem said she has five themes and three core courses left to fulfill. She supports changing theme requirements back to four.
“That would make my life a lot easier; even with one class it’d make it easier for me.”
-Jill Jensen contributed to this report.
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