Enabling Clear Pathways to Degree Completion
Calls to action as a result of the killing of George Floyd and others, as well as the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the need to systematically and critically review our practices and processes. Institutes of higher education bear the responsibility to ensure that all students have access to systems that facilitate their access to, pathway through, and enjoyment of their chosen programs of study and subsequent application of their degrees and accomplishments in their futures. Universities are key contributors to social mobility – and as an HSI research university, we have a unique opportunity to use what we’ve learned over the past several months to advocate for equity to ensure that all students thrive academically at UTSA and beyond.
These events give UTSA the unprecedented opportunity to reevaluate how new modes of technology, increased familiarity with ways of connectivity, and engaged and participatory problem solving can provide unique solutions for removing technological, bureaucratic, curricular, territorial, and historical barriers to enrollment, belonging, and degree attainment. They also allows us to affirm our commitment to helping all students thrive, especially those students most impacted by discriminatory and exclusionary educational practices, by visibly articulating this commitment in our practices and curricular offerings/pathways.
The Tactical Team for Enabling Clear Pathways to Degree Completion embraces this moment. We will utilize the wisdom gained during COVID to formulate recommendations for curricular, institutional, and technological practices that are inclusive. Their unwritten curriculum will articulate the message that UTSA welcomes, supports, and expects all of our students’ success. Embracing our identity as an HSI and MSU, the major undertaking will be to articulate this message most evidently across all areas of our Core Curriculum and within our degree pathways. The primary message will be that a general education must celebrate the lived experience of the learner and assist them to flourish in their chosen future. The Core must express our identities as Roadrunners. We will also examine practices that, while perhaps conventional or convenient, compound the difficulty of learning with navigating uncertain pathways or unfamiliar systems. The goal is to make a series of recommendations that make degree progression as intuitive and systems as invisible as possible.
Finally, the Tactical Team will look at the types of programs, certificates, and courses we offered to evaluate where there are significant opportunities to serve our students. The team will examine the totality of our offerings with the intent of identifying a “mix” of programs that aim to: (a) recruit new students, (b) serve current students, and (c) create successful alums. This task for the Tactical Team will be attentive to what skills and experiences students, faculty, and other relevant stakeholders are seeking and how our offerings align. Also considered will be how to best make sure course inventory facilitates graduation for students who choose to change majors or seek additional certifications
Enabling Clear Pathways to Degree Completion: Framing Questions
- How do our practices produce an inclusive educational and living environment and/or simultaneously reinforce systems of racism, classism, and exclusion?
- How do we do something distinctive with the potential for future greater value and that contributes to UTSA’s position as a leading HSI Research University known for innovation and excellence?
- How do we leverage this challenge as an opportunity for more equity, both to address the digital divide and advance social justice?
Questions to address in recommendations:
- Do all majors have pathways that ensure that student’s access to knowledge that celebrates their lived experience, heritage, and future at all levels? Are there pathways that do not challenge students to grapple with the historical reality of structural inequities?
- Does our curriculum amplify our commitment to anti-racist practices at all levels (Core, major, certificates, etc.)?
- What practices, policies, and pathways demand immediate reconsideration if we are to articulate an unwritten curriculum that promotes anti-racism?
- What are the processes that are perceived as barriers to student graduation? What practices exist that could remove/replace these processes?
- How does organizational structure advance/inhibit an intuitive and inclusive path from recruitment to graduation?
- Are our degree paths truly colorblind? Are our pathways through those degrees designed to facilitate growth and inclusion or to act as gatekeepers or dream-hoarding?
- What forms of information do students use to understand their degree paths? How do they perceive that information’s presentation? How do they perceive other universities’ presentation of the same information? What conclusions can we draw from this?
- What organizational safeguards exist to ensure continued intuitive pathways or facilitate easy access to alternative pathways?
- What information do students receive about choosing pathways? How do we assure accurate and adequate information so that students can make informed decisions?
- What are the right mix of programs to maximize student enrollment and success? How can we be more creative with existing inventory and strengths to expand/enhance our offerings?
- What are students’ experiences with the Core Curriculum?
- Is there a pathway to a zero-cost core? How would we build toward that?
- Are we maximizing the functionality of our technology tools (e.g., Degree Works, Canvas)? How are other campuses using these same tools?
- Is the data governance model effective?
- How do we operationalize recommendations in an operationally constrained environment?