Stephen F. Austin State University

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SFA implementing new core curriculum

May 3, 2014 - University Marketing Communications
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Students at Stephen F. Austin State University and other state institutions will soon begin noticing changes in curriculum that were mandated by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. As directed by the Texas Legislature, the coordinating board issued rules in 2011 requiring a complete overhaul in all Texas public higher education institutions of the core curriculum - 42 semester credit hours of coursework that students must take and that must be transferable from one higher education institution to another.

"The courses in the core curriculum provide the educational opportunities that distinguish university education from vocational training," said Dr. Richard Berry, SFA provost and vice president for academic affairs. "Some majors prepare students for work in specific professions, but all SFA graduates gain an in-depth understanding in their major field of study. Additionally, through the courses in the core curriculum, students are prepared to participate thoughtfully in public discourse, to become responsible citizens in a changing world and to understand the rewards of a lifetime of continued learning."

The core curriculum offered by Texas universities had centered on knowledge-based objectives that stressed the acquisition of information and skills specific to a particular subject. The expected outcomes have been re-envisioned as a set of core objectives that cross traditional subject area boundaries and focus on the progressive development of student skills. Each course in the core curriculum now is expected to teach:

• critical thinking
• communication skills
• empirical and quantitative skills
• teamwork
• social responsibility and
• personal responsibility.

An advisory committee appointed by the provost worked to make the necessary changes to SFA's undergraduate core curriculum. Each department and college reviewed each core course it offers; some courses were deleted, new courses were created and most existing courses were revised. Committee members worked to balance competing needs: the expectation that core curriculum classes would achieve the new, broader objectives and ease the transfer of courses from one college to another.

Beginning in fall 2014, faculty members who teach courses designated as fulfilling a component area will be responsible for assessing the core objectives for that component area. Berry said that the "teamwork" objective may be the biggest challenge.

"Many core courses already make use of teamwork - such as students working together in science labs - but many faculty members may not be accustomed to measuring how well students' teamwork skills improve throughout the semester," Berry said.

Because of the magnitude of the changes required to comply with the new rules, universities across the state have been working for months to make sure that core courses meet the required educational objectives.

"The core requirements allow students to put their major coursework into a broader intellectual context and understand how other disciplines investigate and answer important questions," Berry said. "The core facilitates students' exploration of prospective majors and, in some cases, serves as a foundation for more advanced coursework within the major."

The new core curriculum outcomes are based on the Liberal Education and America's Promise initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. For more information about SFA's core curriculum, visit www.sfasu.edu/acadaffairs.