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Advising Fundamentals

University Studies requires students to complete a set of courses across various areas.  The UStudies curriculum has 14 requirements, which are organized into five clusters.  

Each course that fulfills a UStudies requirement must receive approval from the General Education Committee (which reviews the courses for fidelity to the intended learning outcomes for that requirement), and all courses are reapproved on a regular cycle.  As a result, there are no departmental designators that have been given “blanket approval” for a requirement.  For example, not all Chemistry courses count for the Natural World requirement, not all Art History courses count for the Visual and Performing Arts requirement, and so forth.

The official list of all approved courses is maintained on the University Studies website:

https://www.umassd.edu/universitystudies/approved-courses/

In addition, the Advisement Report in COIN will also display the courses that students can use to satisfy each requirement.

It is important to note that some courses are designated “compound,” which means they fulfill more than one University Studies requirement simultaneously—they double count.  Other courses are designated “flexible,” which means they can fill one OR another UStudies requirement (i.e., no double counting).  The list of Approved Courses on the website indicates which courses have these designations.  If COIN has placed a flexible course in the position of fulfilling one requirement and the student would like it to fulfill the other, an email to Keith Coutu (kcoutu@umassd.edu) in the Registrar’s Office can convey a request for the change.

Students also have the opportunity to take courses from one of the UThemes playlists, which create connections across their UStudies courses through a common theme.  As advisors, it's important to keep in mind that students are not required to select a UTheme and that, if they do decide to take courses from a particular playlist, they're not bound to it and can take as many or as few courses from the playlist as suits them.  Following a UTheme should never result in delayed degree progression or suboptimal course selections.  Both you and your advisees should remain flexible about UThemes.

When advising your students, you should be aware of some requirements in Clusters 1 and 5 that are unusual in some way because they don’t operate exactly like the regular distribution requirements found in Clusters 2, 3 and 4. 

  • Requirements 1A and 1B are fulfilled by ENL 101 and ENL 102 only; there are no other options for these two requirements.
  • Requirement 1C – Intermediate Writing is meant to be fulfilled by a “disciplinary writing” course. Advisors should inform themselves of their department’s arrangement for the 1C requirement and advise their students accordingly.
  • Requirement 1E – Foundation for Learning Through Engagement is meant to be housed within the “foundation,” first-year courses provided by each College. This requirement will be deemed completed for transfer students who enter with more than 24 credits.
  • Requirement 5A – Capstone Study is meant to be housed within the major program of each department. Again, advisors should check with their departments about how to advise students regarding plans for Capstone Study.
  • Requirement 5B – Learning Through Engagement is a requirement that involves students in an active learning experience such as an internship, study abroad, independent research, practica, etc. Departments generally deliver this to their students within the major curriculum, for example in a required course such as the Capstone. 

 

Special Issues

Because courses must be approved and reapproved—or occasionally not reapproved—there may be time periods when a course was approved for University Studies and others when it was not.  Any courses removed from the program are noted in the Retired Courses area of the Approved Courses list along with the termination date.  Students may have taken a course before it was approved and therefore not be able to use it for that UStudies requirement even though it is now on the Approved Courses list.  COIN tracks approval dates and enrollment dates, so it is best to use the Advisement Report to see whether a particular course met a requirement at the time it was taken.

A waiver and substitution form is available on the UStudies website, which contains guidelines for when these exceptions are appropriate and a form to track their use.  For example, a waiver or substitution may be reasonable when it is necessary to facilitate timely degree completion or when the substitution closely matches the content of an approved course.  At the same time, students are best served completing the approved curriculum, so these waivers and substitutions should be reserved for rare cases.  Note that the authority to grant these exceptions resides with those certifying students for graduation, though the Director of General Education tracks their use.

Finally, transfer students who enter the University with 24 or more credits are eligible for the transfer substitution policy, which permits them to transfer in any mathematics course to meet 1D, any natural/physical science course to meet 2A and 2B, any humanities course to meet 3A, 3B and 4A, and any social science course to meet 4A, 4B and 4C (it also waives the 1E, Foundations requirement).  The policy is designed to ease the difficulties transfer students have matching up their general education coursework elsewhere with the UStudies requirements.

Note that there can be some flexibility regarding which UStudies requirement a particular transfer course is used to meet under the policy.  For example, a student transferring in a biology course could use it to meet either 2A or 2B.  The Registrar will make the original assignment, but advisors can request that the course be moved to a different requirement by emailing Keith Coutu (kcoutu@umassd.edu).  It is also important to note that, once matriculated, these students are held to the same rules applying to all other students.  If they have unfulfilled UStudies requirements, they must take (or transfer) approved UStudies courses to meet them.

Some transfer students come in under the MassTransfer agreement, which is a compact among colleges and universities in the state to facilitate gen ed transfer credits.  If a student has completed the gen ed block at a participating institution, their UStudies requirements are considered completed here, with two exceptions: they must still complete a 1C course and a 5A course.

 

The Rationale and Purpose of University Studies

While a key purpose of academic advising is to help students understand the practical and logistical issues of selecting courses and completing their degree, when discussing University Studies it is also important that advisors help students understand the rationale and purpose of the program.  Surveys of students at UMass Dartmouth have revealed a prevailing attitude that Gen Ed courses are just requirements that students have to “get out of the way” in order to focus on their major courses.  When the new UStudies curriculum was created, a commitment was made to continually reinforce with students why the requirements are in place and how they will help them develop the skills and capacities they need to be successful.

To help communicate the rationale and purpose of University Studies, consider the following approach:

Provide them a copy of the Commitment to Student Learning.  The outcomes described there are part of a liberal education, which is one that is not just practical or useful—it goes beyond basic job training and embraces learning for its own sake.  A liberal education helps students adapt to a rapidly evolving job market while also giving them the perspectives and habits of mind to have reflective and engaged lives.

Explain that the University makes good on its Commitment through four sets of experiences.  First, students engage beyond the classroom in the various activities that don’t carry course credit but can have transformative effects. These include dorm life, student groups and clubs, on-campus programming and even student employment. Second, students declare a major in a specific field of study. The major is an important part of the university experience, as it provides an opportunity for comprehensive and integrative learning. But, the major is not the only part of the academic curriculum that helps students achieve the outcomes to which UMass Dartmouth is committed. A third set of experiences comes from curricular requirements in each of the Colleges, which relate to the special demands and competencies in different areas of the university.

The fourth, and perhaps the most important, way in which the University helps its students achieve these outcomes is through the UStudies program. By its design, University Studies introduces students to a breadth of learning, teaches them to think analytically and critically, guides them toward mastery of communication, develops their ability to research and learn independently and provides the foundation to engage in their communities in constructive ways throughout their lives.

 

For more information:

Doug Roscoe, Director of General Education, droscoe@umassd.edu

Matt Sneider, Associate Director of General Education, msneider@umassd.edu

Keith Coutu, Assistant Registrar (for COIN questions), kcoutu@umassd.edu

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