New GenEd Core off to rough start

By Logan Lane, Copy Editor

In the original version of this article, it was incorrectly reported that 16 percent of fall 2015 students in a GenEd Core course decided not to take an additional GenEd Core course in the spring. In fact, 16 percent of these students did enroll in another GenEd Core course. 

A recent University of Akron Faculty Senate report shows that during the 2015 fall semester, students were failing and withdrawing from UA’s new $50-per-credit-hour GenEd Core courses at a greater rate than their in-class counterparts.

The report, released in the April 7 Faculty Senate meeting, compares the learning outcomes of students enrolled in the GenEd Core to those in other modalities like distance learning, online, hybrid courses, and multimedia.

GenEd Core is the University’s pilot initiative launched just before the fall 2015 semester. With its $50-per-credit-hour fee, it boasts a price half that of local community colleges. Classes feature “blended learning,” a mixture of online, in-person, and video interaction, though the GenEd Core website says most learning occurs online.

According to the report, 601 students enrolled in at least one of the GenEd Core classes in the fall 2015 semester. Students taking multiple GenEd Core courses created a duplicated enrollment of 758. Nearly two-thirds were freshmen or sophomores, and one-quarter were transfer students.

The six 2015 fall courses included English Composition I, Exploring Music: Bach to Rock, Earth Science, Basic Statistics, Introduction to Sociology, and Principles of Microeconomics.

The survey marks two differences between GenEd Core students and their peers enrolled in standard courses: age and student success.

Generally, GenEd Core students were significantly older than their in-class counterparts. Ninety percent of in-class students were 19 years of age or younger, while only two-thirds of GenEd Core students fell into this same age group.

Student success was measured by withdrawal rate and the mean grade awarded.

Across all GenEd Core classes, the withdrawal rate was 8.8 percent, almost 67 students. In almost every case, this number was higher than other modalities, including online and in-class courses.

The survey reports the mean grade achieved by GenEd Core students as 2.39 out of 4.0. Again, this was lower than nearly every other modality.

There was, however, an exception.

The online Principle of Microeconomics had a withdrawal rating 10 percent higher than its GenEd Core counterpart. Additionally, the online course received a lower mean grade.

The GenEd Core students in this course also received a higher mean grade than their peers in the in-class course.

The report also notes that almost 25 percent of students who had taken a GenEd Core course did not return to UA for the spring. Additionally, 16 percent of the 601 students decided to take an additional GenEd course in the spring.

Freshman Cody Griffin is not surprised by the findings. Currently enrolled in a GenEd Core English course, he notes that there are sometimes “overwhelming differences” between the online and in-class learning environments. Griffin says he had difficulty reaching his professor due to the nature of the course.

“I prefer a traditional style class where you can see your professor every day and get better help,” Griffin said.

Griffin took the GenEd Core courses because of their price.

President Scott Scarborough addressed the report shortly after it was released in a Q&A at the Undergraduate Student Government’s April 7 meeting, saying he fears the data is being used to prematurely threaten the program.

“Even if there are these challenges, we can offer better alternatives,” he said. “Those who are pushing this issue right now are looking to snuff it out right now.”

Scarborough noted the difficulties of online courses, saying they require self-discipline and will penalize students that don’t. He also hypothesized a correlation between “price-sensitive students” and “academic preparedness.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if [GenEd Core] students are failing out at a higher rate than other students — if that correlation holds,” he said.

Lauren Garcia-DuPlain, a visiting lecturer who taught the 2015 fall English Composition I GenEd Core course, also noted the differences between online and in-class learning. DuPlain wrote over email that although online courses offer more flexibility, they require more effort from everyone involved.

DuPlain noticed that students sometimes have “different ideas of what ‘online learning’ really is.”

Some come in expecting a self-paced course, while others try to juggle jobs, illnesses, and other responsibilities.
I can’t say to what degree these types of circumstances factor into the GenEd Core results, but it might help to be more mindful of these situations going forward,” Garcia-DuPlain wrote.