The final report isn’t due for two months. But already, faculty members are getting nervous about changes that may be in the works at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).
One big worry: Officials are considering the idea of a “common core curriculum” for the whole system, from Winona State University to Itasca Community College.
To faculty leaders, that sounds disturbingly like a cookie-cutter approach that would threaten the distinctive qualities and programs at each of the 31 schools.
“It reduces the unique nature of all of our institutions,” said Jim Grabowska, president of the Inter Faculty Organization and a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “They’re not all the same.”
The proposal, to “create a common core curriculum for use throughout the colleges and universities,” was floated recently in the draft recommendations of a work group on the system’s long-term financial stability. Last fall, the group began exploring ways to keep the schools afloat in the face of a gloomy financial forecast; by various projections, MnSCU’s annual deficit could range between $66 million and $475 million by 2025.
Among other things, the draft recommendations call for simplifying and “reducing curriculum” over the next decade, and limiting “unnecessary program duplication.”
One of the goals is to keep more students — and their tuition dollars — within the system by easing internal transfers between the colleges and universities, said Phil Davis, associate vice chancellor, who co-chairs the committee. That’s where a common curriculum might help, he said.
At this point, the report is still a work in progress, officials say, and the final recommendations won’t be ready for Chancellor Steven Rosenstone until June.
But last week, Grabowska and Kevin Lindstrom, the leaders of MnSCU’s two faculty unions, joined forces to voice their objections about a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum to the board of trustees.
“There are 10,000 faculty members who are saying this is not who we are and it does not represent what we do,” Grabowska told the board of trustees. “These are very significant issues to us.”
In an interview, he noted that many MnSCU schools have their own specialized areas of expertise and said that any effort to standardize the courses inevitably would reduce the options that students have now.
“That’s why it raises the alarm bells,” he said. “With a common core curriculum, I begin to see a future where we’re not going to offer this and we’re not going to offer that. … We find ourselves going down a road making decisions that may be counterproductive for our students.”
Davis, though, says that’s not the intent.
“I don’t ever remember hearing anyone express having a cookie-cutter approach to higher education,” he said. The committee is looking for ways to improve “the design and the delivery of our academic programs,” he added, and ultimately, help more students complete their degrees and “be successful.”