SB 215 makes degree creation easier

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was stripped of some power in the last legislative session û changes that made it easier for degrees to be approved, and protecting others.

SB 215, which redefines the role of the coordinating board, eliminated one step in a two-step process that was required in order for a university to offer a degree to students.

Sam Houston State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jaimie Hebert said the changes streamlined the process and make it easier for a university to offer doctoral and engineering degrees.

“Before, we had to go to the coordinating board to ask for permission to even start (the degree creation process),” he said.

Previously, a doctoral degree first had to be pre-approved on the coordinating board level before the actual degree application could be sent through.

The second step was for the full degree request to be sent through and the coordinating board to review the degree plan based on need, faculty and facility capacity, and if it has adequate financing.

The initial pre-approval step was eliminated in the last bill.

Dean of Graduate Studies Kandi Tayebi said this will probably lead to less oversight on what degrees the university should offer.

“The coordinating board used to look around at the different schools in a university system and say, ‘What should your specialty be? Where should you be emphasizing?'” she said. “SHSU was given a lot of leeway with education and criminal justice, for example. At the doctoral level is where they were being very careful with what they were putting through.”

In the past, she said, degrees from all over the state were denied, because they didn’t fit what the board considered to be the university’s specialty.

“At SHSU, for example, if we had five doctoral programs come forward (from the department level) we couldn’t send them all through, because they wouldn’t be approved,” Tayebi said. “So, the coordinating board would talk to the president and say, ‘You know, why don’t you send these two programs forward? These sound like a good idea and a good fit for SHSU.'”

Tayebi said the logistics of offering programs, like funding, faculty and facilities, would be worked out at the university level before ever reaching the coordinating board.

Any programs that were already submitted to the board will work under the old system. Tayebi said the university should now in about a month. Those programs include a doctoral degree in victim studies, a master’s degree in digital media, a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications, a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering technology, and a bachelor’s in computer software engineering.

Hebert also said that the coordinating board would no longer be able to eliminate low-performing programs thanks to the new law.

“It’s important because although before you might not see many majors in, say, physics or philosophy,” Hebert said, “it is essential that universities offer those classes.”

The other problem the previous system had, he said, was that the same standard was being applied across degrees, regardless of how many were being produced compared to state averages.

“When you look at our physics department, we’re producing at the state average number of graduates,” he said. “But it may be considered a low-performing program according to their standard.”

The Bachelor of Science in Environmental Scienceand Master of Arts in Industrial Technologywill be phased out due to poor enrollment and graduation rates in 2011 after a coordinating board decision.

The THECB standard for an undergraduate degree to be adequate is that the program must graduate five students every year, averaged over a five year period. For master’s degrees it is three students and for a doctorate program it is two students.

Eight other programs were declared “low performing programs” in 2011 including Communication Studies , Family and Consumer Science , Philosophy , Sociology , Industrial Technology , IT û Electronics , IT û Industrial Management , and Health (MA and MeD).

The coordinating board may now only issue recommendations on the closure of the programs, but not require their removal.

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