Policymakers | General Education

Save our standards

ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE   |  October 31, 2010 by Sue Madison

Institutions of higher education in Arkansas are governed by their boards of trustees. Amendment 33 to our State Constitution makes that very clear. Yet some of our four-year institutions say a 2009 act of the General Assembly is forcing them to make a choice-easy access to degrees or high standards. They don’t have to make this choice.

Act 182 of 2009 was well-intentioned. Its purpose was to ensure that students who get an associate’s degree from one of our community colleges won’t lose credit for their coursework if they seek a baccalaureate degree from a four-year institution.

Yet interpretations of the rather contorted language have provided excuses for massive changes in requirements.

Some of the changes, for example, will create a confusing jumble of degree requirements-diametrically opposite to the good intent of the act. Some of the changes will lower general education requirements, perhaps meeting the underlying desires of some who see this act as a convenient tool, serving in place of a direct argument to dumb down college degrees.

Some of our four-year institutions think this means they have to reduce their core curriculum requirements to the state minimum core. Yet Act 182 states, “A transfer student must meet total baccalaureate degree program credit hour and course requirements.” In other words, they still must meet the requirements for a degree determined by the institution’s board of trustees. The state minimum core befits its name in several ways, most notably in the embarrassing absence of foreign languages and the badly uninformed listing of only one mathematics course, college algebra, which is the same course taught in every high school in Arkansas. The state minimum core itself is a jumble of requirements and options, reflecting the way it was cobbled together by compromises and institutional practices. As such, it hinders creation of a more appropriate and intellectually coherent core by any state institution.

The faculty of University of Arkansas’ Fulbright College voted recently to reduce core requirements, based in part on a belief that they thereby comply with Act 182 of 2009.

Such action is not necessary. I am proud that the University of Arkansas’s College of Arts and Sciences is named after Senator J. William Fulbright who was a constant champion of “peace through international understanding.” Dropping a foreign language requirement from any degree in Fulbright College would make Senator Fulbright turn over in his grave.

Sue Madison is an Arkansas state senator. She lives in Fayetteville.


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