To major or not to major?

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District 1 trustee Joe Alderete expresses his discontent with removing majors from degrees at a meeting of the Student Trustee Committee Tuesday. Chancellor Bruce Leslie and District 2 trustee Denver McClendon listen as he explains there's not much support for the initiative.

District 1 trustee Joe Alderete expresses his discontent with removing majors from degrees at a meeting of the Student Trustee Committee Tuesday. Chancellor Bruce Leslie and District 2 trustee Denver McClendon listen as he explains there’s not much support for the initiative. Photo by Katherine Garcia

Committee disagrees on decision to strike majors from degrees

By Katherine Garcia

Members of the Student Success Committee of the Alamo Colleges board of trustees got into a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of transfer degrees but made no recommendations Tuesday in Killen Center.

Jo-Carol Fabianke, vice chancellor of academic success, presented an update on the district administration’s removal of majors from degrees.

She explained the intent of the transfer degrees was to have students declare their major after 15 hours and the colleges provide requirements for transfer to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas State University.

Once students knows their concentration, they will spend less time and money taking unnecessary classes to get an associate degree while still having the benefits of good professors and small classes, Fabianke said.

“We want to encourage students to stay here,” she said. “We have a good number of students who transfer before they ever get a degree.”

Fabianke said she had reached out to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges on the proposal, and district officials are waiting for feedback to see if majors can be on a diploma and transcript without students having to take a defined set of courses that do not transfer.

She reminded the board of the new WIG — or Wildly Important Goal — of giving out 7,582 degrees by August 2015. The original goal of 7,000 degrees by August 2015 was reached by August 2014.

Every employee in the district is involved in projects to further this goal through the FranklinCovey “4DX” or “Four Disciplines of Execution.”

She said the Alamo Colleges has partnered with UTSA, and the university sends the district a list of every student who has 66 or more credit hours so the students can get reverse transfer degrees from one of the district’s five colleges.

Colleges in the district have not given many reverse transfer degrees based on the information, or the students on the list already have a degree from one of the colleges in the district, she said.

She said each student on the list who qualifies will be notified of the degree, and unless the student objects, the degree will be awarded.

Despite Fabianke starting the presentation saying nothing has changed, District 1 trustee Joe Alderete Jr. asked if the wording in the catalog had reverted to allowing majors on degrees.

She said the current catalog, which was changed in 2014-15 to remove majors from degrees, is the same.

“We have not done anything else until we get all this wording and everything worked out,” she said.

Alderete said no one will wait a year or a year-and-a-half for the current students to graduate to have the issue resolved.

“My concern … is that that point has to get resolved rather quickly,” he said.

“Nobody’s going to give you, the board, the administration the time to solve this issue.”

Alderete said he’s talked to El Paso Community College, which was named a top 10 finalist out of 1,000 for the 2015 Aspen Prize for community college excellence; accreditors who are and are not associated with the Alamo Colleges; and faculty members across the Alamo Colleges.

“And they have majors in their catalog,” he said, adding that at a round table discussion at this college, “everybody agreed that it was the wrong approach.”

He said the same objective could be accomplished through using current methods such as two-plus-two transferring or advising to “customize” degree plans.

“I have not run into one single person that has told me they are in favor of the deletion of the major on the diploma and transcript,” Alderete said.

He said the district has talked to representatives of Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of SACS-COC, and they say there is no need for the deletion of a major.

“Just put the major on there and meet the standard that’s required,” Alderete said, adding that the issue needs to be resolved quickly.

He said the catalog is not the same, but the change to the 2014-15 catalog is the issue.

Alderete mentioned District 4 trustee Albert Herrera’s question on whether the board had the right to vote on this.

“You responded … in the negative,” he said. “I’ve checked with those two attorneys, (pointing to the district’s legal counsel) attorneys at the state level, and all three agree the board has the right to vote. There is no legal issue here in terms of the board having the prerogative to vote on it.”

“I’ve had people tell me … ‘we are being pressed,’ and I’m being very nice to sign documents that we agree with this thing. And that’s no way to work with the team.

“If we’re going to be transparent, they are a part of our team and we need to send a clear signal that we hear them,” Alderete said.

Alderete said customizing degree plans is fine, but the deletion of the major is the issue.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie said no one has asked anybody to sign anything, and that the college presidents and vice chancellors have given the Alamo Colleges community the opportunity to speak up about any concerns.

He said there is no rush to come to a final decision, and the Alamo Colleges will have continuous discussion with SACS-COC.

“Hopefully, we’ll have this resolved in a couple of months,” Leslie said.

“This was rushed from the 2014 catalog to the 2015 catalog without the board having any input,” Alderete said. “The faculty and the staff that serve you, they are a critical part … they need to be informed about the true direction of our community college.”

Leslie said, “We never said to the board that you have no authority or right.”

He said the change was “technical” so it wasn’t a part of the board’s usual consideration.

Student trustee Jacob Wong said it started with a question of whether district colleges can offer majors by SACS-COC, and he said the Alamo Colleges backed down from the question because Alamo Colleges couldn’t prove whether colleges could still offer majors.

Fabianke reminded the board that the administration at Northwest Vista College wrote to SACS-COC that the college wouldn’t have majors, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved awarding degrees without majors.

District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery asked if a student graduating without a major on a degree would be as likely to be hired as a student with a major.

Fabianke said she knew employers were impressed with students who received a degree, but she said she was not sure if it lessened a graduate’s chances without a major.

She said for every major, there is a set of courses for those students, and the students will be measured by the similar learning outcomes designated for each major.

She said exceptions can be made, but the district wants to avoid having students take excessive credit hours.

This is why a counselor will customize the 18 hours, which used to compose a major course of study, in addition to the 42-hours core curriculum for associate of arts and associate of science degrees.

Kinsgbery asked what would keep a student with 42 credit hours at the Alamo Colleges instead of the student leaving?

“How do we get the value added back with this change?”

She said most students do transfer, some without the completed core. She said advisers would show students the benefit of staying, such as saving money.

District 5 trustee Roberto Zarate said he was not aggrieved by the conversation.

“I see no evil intent in this (change),” he said, adding that other universities are praising the Alamo Colleges for the direction it’s going.

“If you want this to be an issue, you can make it every month with citizens-to-be heard,” he said, referring to the public’s ability to speak on the topic during that portion of public board meetings.

District 7 trustee Yvonne Katz said she asked employers if they paid attention to whether majors were on a degree. She was told transcripts were important.

“There’s not one board of trustees that’s ever asked me to bring my diplomas,” she said.

She said the issue can be beat to death for years and years, or the board can focus on how the Alamo Colleges show majors on transcripts that can facilitate students getting hired.

District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said he’s had a lot of experience hiring.

“I need to know that you were taking courses in which you were taught the skills that I need,” he said. “You can print it all over your diploma, but what they want to know is what courses did you take, what was the content and how well you did in those courses.”

Anna Bustamante, District 3 trustee and board chair, said the issue is that the Alamo Colleges will not be following a usual process.

Alderete said, “What’s bothering me is that from 2010 to 2014 we’ve been talking about getting students successful and getting them an associate degree. Customization can be done under the present situation and without the deletion of the major.”

“The deletion goes contrary to what you told me was the objective of the Alamo Colleges back in June 2010, which was to graduate people.”

Adding a major on the diploma shows they’ve graduated, Alderete said.

Four trustees disagreed.

Leslie said every student should know their transfer major, and students who do are more successful. What hinders students from achieving a baccalaureate degree is the loss of credits, he said.

“The status quo hurts students, “he said. “We can’t just leave the major and customize everybody’s different course of study. Then we don’t have the major.”

He said the best interest of students is the motivator behind the removal of majors from degrees.

The committee did not vote on any recommendations to take to the full board, which meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Killen Center.


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