Discussions ongoing to lower upper division hours

Elizabeth Beilman

Some faculty members attended an open forum Tuesday in Gary Ransdell Hall to discuss a proposition to lower required upper-division hours from 42 to 36 in an effort to level the field with programs granted waivers.

A waiver is an approved reduction for a program to reduce its required upper-level hours from 42 for circumstantial reasons. Five of WKU’s 94 undergraduate majors have had waivers approved in the last five years, and those programs now require 36 or fewer upper-division hours.

The proposition would also change the upper-level requirements for transfer students with an associate degree in their major down to 30 hours from 36.

It would not change the 120 total hours required for an undergraduate degree, said Marge Maxwell, chair of Academic Policy Subcommittee of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.

Maxwell, also an associate professor of educational technology, said the idea developed after the provost denied a waiver for the technology management major.

“The provost wants us to have a consistent policy without waivers,” Maxwell said. “The primary purpose today is so we can hear from the other 95 percent.”

The existing waivers for five programs — dental hygiene, computer information technology, health science with and allied health concentration, nursing and systems management — arose from specific circumstances for each.

The health science program, which has a 19-hour waiver, has a transfer agreement with the Kentucky Community & Technical College System, said Ken Whitley, instructor of dental hygiene.

The waiver ensures that KCTCS transfer students do not repeat courses or take an extra amount of hours, he said.

Hospitals and health care facilities in the region help reimburse the tuition of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health services, Whitley said.

These benefits offer an incentive for students to transfer to WKU.

However, other programs without a waiver have to compete with those that do.

For example, technology management requested a waiver because some students are more inclined to major in systems management due to the fewer hours it takes to graduate.

Associate English professor Kelly Reames said majors are already competitive by nature. She agrees with the current system of waiving under certain circumstances.

“What we have now works,” Reames said. “That seems to be lowering our academic standards.”

Gordon Emslie, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, mentioned at the forum an alternative proposal that would recommend 42 hours of upper-level courses but set a minimum of 36. Emslie said that within that system, programs could be granted waivers to drop to as few as 30 hours.

He said any new policies will apply to incoming students only.

Micah Bennett, student representative for the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, said he doesn’t want the requirement for all majors lowered because his degree would not look as good to graduate schools.

“That devalues my bachelor’s degree,” Bennett said. “Even if it isn’t easier, if it looks easier, they’re (competition) going to have a leg up.”

Maxwell said she would report the forum results to the committee and continue discussion from there.

“The process is not going to be quick,” she said. “We’re just gathering information now.”