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Building an Exceptional Undergraduate Education

January 28, 2013

In developing our strategic plan, Bold Aspirations, we surveyed public international research institutions that, like the University of Kansas, are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities. We sought perspectives on the current state of general education.

The findings pointed to how KU could be a leader among our AAU peers by building upon existing strengths and giving undergraduate students unique flexibility in completing their degree requirements.

The exciting result of our collective efforts — the KU Core —represents KU’s first university-wide curriculum for all undergraduates. We’re finding that the KU Core is raising considerable student interest and is already being emulated elsewhere. It is set to launch for the fall semester.

The home stretch for implementing the KU Core

All first-year students beginning in fall 2013 will participate in the KU Core, and current first-year students may “opt in” as well. Fulfilling the KU Core entails successfully completing 12 units. A unit can be a single course, an approved educational experience, or an approved combination of course work and experiences.

During biweekly meetings last fall, the University Core Curriculum Committee (UCCC) made tremendous progress in preparing for the coming launch:

  • 486 courses were approved for meeting outcomes; 445 more have been nominated and are moving through the approval process.
  • First-year seminars have been developed and approved to meet the critical thinking outcome of the KU Core. The first-year seminars define our first-ever university-wide course in that they have a shared curricular core with discipline-specific content built around it.
  • The UCCC developed procedures for managing the KU Core, and the first recommendation for revision was vetted with the university community. Based upon that process, the UCCC approved revised options to meet the educational goal on culture and diversity (goal 4).

There is still important work to be done in order to ensure the College and the schools finalize their individual degree-specific requirements so that they dovetail with the KU Core. It is very important for these degree requirements to align with the spirit of the KU Core — addressing key educational goals and learning outcomes (rather than specific courses), while at the same time granting students valuable flexibility to tailor unique learning experiences.

The UCCC and the academic schools and departments will need to ensure sufficient availability of desired courses and experiences.

A robust selection of KU Core classes will mean more choice for students and more opportunities for individual departments. In order for students to select your course to fulfill a KU Core learning outcome, you must complete the nomination form to initiate the approval process. You may save your progress at any step along the way by clicking the “Pause” button at the bottom of the webpage.

The Collaborative for Experiential Learning

In the survey of our AAU peers, the treatment of experiential learning drew an interesting response: Only the University of Wisconsin-Madison integrated such opportunities into general education requirements.

We felt strongly that experiential learning was an important component to build directly into the KU Core. It is one of the ways the KU Core will strengthen the exceptional education that undergraduates can receive only at KU.

Strategy 1-D of Bold Aspirations puts forward two key action items that will significantly enhance experiential learning:

  • Establish a Center for Experiential Learning
  • Build experiential learning opportunities into the new KU core curriculum

The newly-designated Collaborative for Experiential Learning will serve as the center to develop, expand, and promote experiential learning on the campus. The collaborative brings together unit directors from the Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Study Abroad & International Programs, University Career Center, and the Center for Undergraduate Research.

The collaborative is initiating a clearinghouse to support educational experiences at KU, create a tracking system for students, and oversee assessment. Each unit represented in the collaborative has a faculty advisory board — and many have faculty fellows — working to develop programs and to help determine which educational experiences qualify to meet academic requirements. This approach will allow the collaborative to forward approved experiences to the UCCC for inclusion in the KU Core. The collaborative also oversees the majority of the undergraduate certificate programs on campus and will ensure that certificate programs are part of the KU Core.

Bits and Bytes

  • My first note is a sad one: Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity Fred Rodriguez will be retiring in June 2013. Bold Aspirations specifically calls for the elevation of diversity leadership to a vice provost level, and Fred has done a splendid job establishing the office and bringing together our diversity organizations. While we should all celebrate Fred’s long and distinguished career at KU, his outstanding leadership will be missed.
  • Congratulations to the Office of Public Affairs and to Marketing and Communications on the redesigned KU.edu homepage. It serves as KU’s “front door” to prospective students and faculty, and the redesign provides a modern, easy-to-navigate look and feel. We welcome and encourage feedback. Please send any constructive comments, as well as reports of dead links or other errors, to webcomms@ku.edu.
  • Governor Sam Brownback will be on campus this week for the Kansas Conference on Slavery and Human Trafficking, which begins Thursday evening, January 31 and continues all day Friday, February 1. The Governor will introduce our keynote speaker on Thursday evening. The two-day conference will examine existing research on slavery and human trafficking and identify opportunities for educational and research programs in Kansas.
  • Finally, today is Data Privacy Day. The KU Privacy Office and KU Information Technology have partnered to provide you more information on best practices for handling personal information and other data. You can get the training online at privacy.ku.edu and at an event at the Kansas Union today from noon to 2 pm. If you are unable to attend, the event is being streamed live.
Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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