The University of Massachusetts Boston has a variety of requirements to graduate. There are general education requirements, and there are requirements regarding the amount of credits needed to graduate; most people are aware of these ones. A requirement that confuses me, however, is the Writing Proficiency Requirement.
For those of you who have not yet reached this point in their academic career, the WPE is a requirement which you must fulfill “by your junior year when you have between 60 and 75 credits” (1). You have the option of fulfilling this requirement either by exam or by portfolio. If you do not fulfill the requirement by the time you reach sixty credits, then a hold will be put on your account.
The point of the WPE is to ensure that students can write, and to ensure that their reading comprehension levels and critical thinking capabilities are satisfactory. This seems like a good thing, at first glance. The point of college is to learn. It’s important to make sure that the students actually are learning at the level that they are supposed to be.
However, as already stated, the point of college is to learn. With college English courses already being a general education requirement, why would there need to be additional testing required? This brings forward concerns over how the university views the capabilities of its professors. Students should not be passing through ENGL 102, while also being unable to pass the WPE.
There’s also the fact of how intensive the Writing Proficiency Requirement is. The portfolio requirements include needing to submit fifteen pages of your work in various classes at the university, while also including a minimum of five pages responding to a question and reading given to you by the Writing Proficiency Office. The website also states that “everyone who submits a portfolio must submit a new essay, and the topic and readings change every testing period” (2).
The requirements to submit a portfolio to meet the Writing Proficiency Requirement does not end there though. The student then needs to also fill out multiple forms titled Certification Form for the Writing Proficiency Evaluation Portfolio (3). This form requires the student to acknowledge that the papers submitted are their own work, which is normal for any college work. However, it also requires a professor (or a department chair) to sign the paper, acknowledging that the essay had previously been submitted as part of their course and that it’s acceptable to be utilized as part of the Writing Proficiency Evaluation Portfolio.
This, yet again, brings into question the lack of trust the university seems to have in both its students and professors. Every paper submitted for evaluation has to be from a UMass Boston course, a student can not submit more than one essay from the same course (except for intermediate seminars and three specific courses), the professor must state the student’s original grade when they fill out their section of the Certification Form for the portfolio, and the department chair cannot sign for any work that does not have the professor’s original grade written on the paper (3). These are a lot of very specific requirements. Why can’t a student submit work that wasn’t for a UMass Boston course? Why does the original grade need to be featured as part of the submission, given that the initial grade is apparently still not enough to warrant the student capable?
There’s also the fact that these requirements make things even more difficult for transfer students or students with transfer credits. They would have to find essays only from classes taken in their first semester, if they transferred in enough to already be a junior. This limits their options significantly.
The other option, if the portfolio is not your speed, is to take the exam. The exam consists of being allotted three hours to hand write an essay based off of readings and one of two questions—you are allowed to choose which one to answer (4). I know less about this option, as students choose it less frequently than the portfolio option. I can’t imagine that having that handwriting an essay under that kind of time crunch would be a good example of the student at their best, however.
If a student is passing through their classes fine, then I see no reason for the university to require further work and proof that they know how to read or write properly. I especially see no reason for the university to need such intense and specific requirements in order to “prove” that. Trust the students. Trust the professors.