Cal State Fullerton professor wonders whether major course requirements could be made simpler

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(Treva Flores / Daily Titan)

For some students, college major course requirements can be daunting to sort through and may make graduating on time, difficult to accomplish.

At the same time, “Students don’t appear to mind guidance,” said Nick Huntington-Klein, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of economics.

At the Monday Faculty Noon Time Talk on Monday. Huntington-Klein said his research questions whether or not the complex structure of college requirements is necessary, as well as how students prefer to receive requirement information.

His first example was what are called “major maps”: long, possibly hard-to-navigate, lists of required courses for a particular major. While appearing overcomplicated, its structure is meant to lead students toward courses they need for graduation.

Huntington-Klein said the reason they look so jumbled is because of the upper and lower division requirements, corequisites and variety in course choices, and on top of that, switching majors after freshman year creates new challenges as students figure out which courses to take.

He tried making his own major map, but failed to create one better than those already in place.

“There’s naturally this much level of complexity in the actual requirements themselves. It’s not just a presentation problem,” Huntington-Klein said.

He blames the complexity of major maps on requirements he calls “nested, double-dipping and crosscutting requirements.”

Nested requirements are the smaller courses required to take a larger course. Double-dipping requirements are when one course can be applied for multiple credits at the same time. Crosscutting requirements are courses that can be applied for multiple credits, but cannot be applied to those credits at the same time.

Huntington-Klein surveyed students by grouping courses or listing them. Students felt neutral about grouping courses together, but preferred longer lists over shorter ones due to wanting freedom of choice.

Many students preferred to have variety in their courses and disliked that decision narrowed down for them.

“The emphasis on choice that we have is uniquely American, which sort of makes sense with the culture we have with emphasis on choice and individuality,” Huntington-Klein said.

He said there is a way to give students freedom of choice that also gives them guidance.

Andre DeLoach, former director of student affairs at UC Irvine, asked how accessible academic advising is for students who are looking for direction.

“Too often we’ll say just go see the academic advisor, but in my case we had 1,000 students in an entry class at undergraduate and two academic advisors,” DeLoach said. “There was no way in the world they were going to see all those people”

Huntington-Klein said his research did not address academic advising, but if the results don’t prove the lack of access to advisors is directly impacting student graduation, then no one will care.

In the future, Huntington-Klein is looking to find the correlation between graduation rates for each major and the structure of those requirements.

In a couple of weeks, Huntington-Klein will be presenting his findings to the Association for Education Finance and Policy in Portland, Oregon.

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