Approximately 100 faculty and staff participated in “Town Hall” discussions Sept. 30 about the University Studies Program, the general education courses taken by all students at Southeast Missouri State University.
Faculty members from all five colleges, as well as staff from the division of Enrollment Management and Student Success, participated in two forums inspired by the “Town Hall” approach fostered by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The purpose was to continue the campus discussions initiated in Spring 2016 about the comprehensive review of the University Studies Program.
Southeast Provost Karl Kunkel welcomed both groups, highlighting the importance of the review of University Studies in the context of Southeast’s efforts to improve retention and degree completion. Kunkel also mentioned the impact of a new state law, Senate Bill 997 (SB997), signed by Gov. Jay Nixon on June 16, and which requires Missouri’s public universities and community colleges to collaborate on a 42-credit hour general education equivalency matrix, so courses taken anywhere within this system will count if a student transfers. He also thanked the faculty and staff in attendance, noting that each had been nominated for the Town Hall by their dean or vice president.
“None of you are here by accident,” he said. “What you are doing today is important for the success of our students.”
Southeast President Carlos Vargas spoke to the Town Hall participants, highlighting the importance of general education in developing complete citizens.
“My undergraduate education was entirely in physics and mathematics,” he said. “When I came to the United States, I felt at a disadvantage without the broad background everyone else had. Our students will be better prepared with a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences.”
Dr. Wayne Bowen, director of University Studies, organized and facilitated the Town Hall. At the beginning of each session, he explained the history of University Studies at Southeast and the purpose of the Town Hall. Implemented in fall 1988, the program had been reaffirmed by previous reviews in 1991 and 2008. This review will consider national research, best practices, changes in state law and programs adopted by peer institutions, with added impetus to reduce time-to-degrees.
Kris Baranovic, instructional designer in the Office of Instructional Technology, then led the Town Hall through quick polls to measure their perceptions of the program. There was a clear consensus for change, given changes in student demographics, the needs of employers, and campus initiatives to incorporate global awareness and our national diversity in the curriculum.
Among the activities that engaged the participants were polls about the current University Studies program and learning objectives, discussions of their own experiences as undergraduates taking general education courses and directed readings reflecting a range of perspectives on general education.
Each table wrote responses to each reading, also developing their own summary of the Town Hall discussions and their recommendations for the University Studies Council, which is conducting the program review.
Bowen concluded each session by noting the plan is for the Council to develop Program Learning Objectives this fall and early spring, after discussions on the results of the Town Hall, as well as engagement with local employers.
The structure and courses that will fulfill these objectives will be determined in the 2017-2018 academic year. Consistent with the mandate of both SB997 and Academic Affairs at Southeast, the goal is for a new curriculum to be in place in fall 2018 — the 30-year anniversary of the current program.
“The Town Hall was a wonderful collaboration between faculty and staff,” Bowen said. “It was exciting to hear so many animated conversations about how to make our program better, to prepare our students for the careers that await them, and even more importantly for the challenges they will face as citizens, embracing life in full measure.”
Bowen indicated the results of the Town Hall will soon be available to all interested faculty and staff on a Moodle page, to provide a venue for additional engagement.