Academic Affairs

Recommended formation of a General Education Task Force

TO: Dr. James Mackin, Provost, Dr. John Riley, Chair, Bloomsburg University Curriculum Committee (BUCC)

FROM: Richard Baker, Chair, Bloomsburg University Middle States Steering Committee

DATE: October 3, 2007

The Bloomsburg University Middle States Steering Committee met on this date and formally voted to recommend to the Provost and BUCC that a task force be formed to conduct an extensive review, and to develop a strategic plan for, the general education component of the curriculum at Bloomsburg University. This should include presentation to BUCC, and the Provost's office, of a strategic plan to implement, fund, maintain, assess, and periodically review the general education component of the university's curricular offerings.

This recommendation is being made at this time because of the admonition by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) in their publication, Self Study: Creating a Useful Process and Report. It states that an institution that identifies a significant concern during the self-study process should address the issue immediately rather than wait until completion of the assessment process.

Equally important is the recommendation on page 14 of the MSCHE, 1999 Report to the Faculty, Administration, Trustees, Students of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, which stated:

Develop an effective outcomes assessment program for general education, including translation of findings into program improvements.

As a point of clarification, general education is defined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in Standard 12 of their publication, Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Eligibility Requirements and Standards for Accreditation, as:

The institution's curricula are designed so that students acquire and demonstrate college-level proficiency in general education and essential skills, including at least oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning, and technological competency.

Justifications for this recommendation include:

PRP 3612 - General Education Requirements has existed with minor revisions for so long that the current published version of the PRP doesn't even list the original date of issue. It begins with an amendment date of September 19, 1990 and concludes with an amended date which appears to have the formal approval process commence on April 18, 2001. It is virtually certain that the basic requirements addressed in the PRP have existed for at least twenty to twenty-five years in their current state.

Although the General Education Assessment subcommittee of the AETF has been working on identifying the level and type of outcomes assessment that is currently being conducted involving general education, there appears to have been no organized comprehensive review of general education since PRP 3612 was issued sometime prior to 1990.

In the years since the original PRP 3612 was issued, the University has undergone momentous change:

There is an overriding concern among the Steering Committee that the existing general education curriculum:

Working Group E of the Middle States self-study team, which is specifically assigned to review the general education curriculum at Bloomsburg university, made several specific suggestions concerning the need for a university wide review of the university's general education requirements, as well as a series of recommendations concerning the implementation of that review process. A copy of their report has been appended to this recommendation letter.

The Steering Committee would like to conclude this recommendation with the following general suggestions:

  1. The review process needs to be faculty driven.
  2. Because general education is a significant component of all four colleges at Bloomsburg University each college should have equal representation on the task force.
  3. Because library staff and resources are routinely used to accomplish the general education component, a representative of the library staff be a member of the task force.
  4. Because general education addresses the core competencies that we expect our students to graduate with, members of the student body, as well as the professional staff supporting the academic mission, need to be active participants in the task force.
  5. Because of the need to support any general education plan with adequate resources, a senior administrator, possibly the Dean of Undergraduate Education, also should be assigned to the task force.
  6. Because any proposed revision of the general education requirements will require approval of BUCC, there needs to be some formal mode of interface between BUCC and the task force throughout the process.
  7. The process needs to receive the status of a strategic plan so that implementation, funding, maintenance, assessment, and subsequent review of general education becomes a dynamic process rather than a static process that is undertaken only with great angst.
  8. Because both Working Group E and the General Education Assessment subcommittee of the AETF have developed valuable information about the general education process at Bloomsburg University, both their information and personal expertise should be incorporated into the task force's work.
  9. The process should begin on or before May 1, 2008.
  10. Finally, the process needs to begin with self-reflection. What does the university community, especially the faculty, consider to be the goals of general education at Bloomsburg University? Although MSCHE Standard 12 defines a set of minimum goals, the university community needs to develop a consensus as to what universal skills we want our students possess when they graduate.

Appendix

Middle States Working Group E Report

Submitted to the Bloomsburg University Middle States Steering Committee

September 18, 2007

Background - Working Group E was requested to meet by the Steering Committee of the Middle States Review. The task assigned to the committee was to make recommendations to the Steering Committee concerning specifically the General Education component of the Working Group's charge. Those recommendations in turn would be passed on to a putative committee that would be formed to "review" general education. This committee in turn would initiate the process of revising general education.

Addressing the charge - Members of the group were asked to solicit opinions about general education in their departments and colleges. Members were provided with the results from the latest effort to look a general education that ended in the Spring of 2007. On September 13 the following members of the committee met for two hours to discuss general education: Betina Entzminger, Heather Feldhaus, Richard Ganahl, Patricia Lenhart, Lynda Michaels, Emeric Schultz, Michael Shepard, Blair Staley, Phillip Tucker.

Observations and Recommendations

Preface: all members of the Committee were unsettled as to exactly what role their efforts would have in relationship to the other "General Education" committee. There was a concern that the work of the committee would be in vain.

1) The importance of general education is not effectively conveyed to students

Recommendation: a "general education passport" that details the importance of each component of general education be developed. This passport would suggest how best to meet the goals of general education in the context of the student's field of study and would be stamped by the student's advisor upon completion of each requirement.

2) Even though the goals of our current general education are lofty, the manner in which students seek to fulfill these goals is very pragmatic. Constraints include: block scheduling for the first year, which decides in advance components of general education for the student; the exhaustion of the perceived "best selections" for students as a consequence of the priorities in scheduling courses; the highly prescribed nature of some degree programs which leaves little flexibility for general education options; the increasing number of programs of less than 4 years; the presence of clinical, internship and other components that effect scheduling options.

Recommendation: if there is a "general education core", given the diversity of degree programs at the university, perhaps the best way to find it is for each college to define its goals in general education. An overlap of these sets of goals (and the specific courses that meet these goals) in the manner of Venn diagrams might lead to defining two portions of general education, one that is in common and one that is not. The two sets could then be addressed in different ways.

3) We recognize that students are often more concerned with how courses are counted and what categories are completed rather than what learning goals are being met, and we are concerned that the current "Group" system encourages this approach. There is significant evidence that students can take two very similar courses at the lower level to partially complete a requirement in a particular group. This of course works against "general education". In fact general education can be completed by taking a set of very fundamental courses. If certain constraints on student options (limiting the current flexibility) were put in place, the problem with getting the "right" courses in a timely fashion would be exacerbated. In all likelihood student would have a have more problems completing their programs in an acceptable time frame.

Recommendation: The only potential resolution to this problem would be restricting some student options but at the same time providing interdisciplinary courses that could be counted (either partially or completely in different categories). Interdisciplinary courses would provide flexibility, increase the student's breadth of knowledge, and promote critical thinking as students see one discipline informing another.