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Characteristics of Success

Successful general education programs require more than lofty vision statements and well-designed curriculum models. There must be ongoing support of faculty development and teaching, an administrative structure that ensures leadership for the program, ongoing assessment and evaluation of the program, and institutional commitment to ensure that the general education program thrives and that students are well-served by it. There are several features of successful general education programs. For example, the faculty at Alverno College credit the success of their innovative general education program on four key features: "1) The extensive time set aside for collaboration on teaching and learning; 2. The extensive commitment to the support of teaching, through financial resources, technology, and other means; 3. The pervasive norm of publicly discussing teaching activities and designs...and finally 4. The ability-based curriculum, which serves as a common foundation and language" (Riordan and Sharkey 2010, p. 212). We have modified the Alverno characteristics slightly in the context of CSB/SJU and make the following recommendations:

1). Provide time for collaboration on teaching and learning

General education requires collaboration and the sharing of ideas, particularly if some courses are grouped into thematic clusters and if we expect students to learn developmentally as they progress through the program. Alverno College created time on Friday afternoons (no classes are scheduled) for faculty to meet and work on issues of teaching, learning, and assessment. The Alverno faculty also hold three 'institutes' each year, in August, January, and May (Riordan and Sharkey 2010, pp. 207-208). There is a yearning for this kind of collaboration and conversation at CSB/SJU, as faculty mentioned it in their feedback from the 2013 JFA forums, the 2014 fall faculty workshop, the CCVC meetings with departments, and the faculty feedback during SD2020 campus conversations. While it may be prohibitive to adopt a schedule similar to that of Alverno, as a starting point it would be worthwhile for the Calendar Committee to look into the possibility of a faculty "in service" day during the academic year when these topics can be raised and discussed.

In addition, CCVC finds it distressing that institutional support for the Learning Enhancement Service (LES) at CSB/SJU has waned. Many institutions commited to teaching have a vibrant center to support and promote effective pedagogy. For example, the Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts (CILA) at St. Olaf College provides support for faculty conversation and collaboration about learning, teaching and scholarship. In addition, these centers can assist with the transition and implementation of general education reform. At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning serves as a resource for teaching, provides workshops and web resources on research-based teaching and learning practices, and funds projects for faculty research. "Thus, the center became an important foundation for the general education reform effort." Lori J. Carrell, the director, noted, "The center helped with the cultural transformation on campus and readied the campus for change" (Kuh and O'Donnell 2013, p. 42). In another example, after Hampshire College established a new center for teaching and learning, "identifying areas of focus, designing and carrying out programs, and figuring out how to evaluate our efforts has been tremendously stimulating" (D'Avanzo 2009, p. 22).

2). Make a commitment to the support of teaching through financial resources, technology, and other means

If general education reform is going to work, it will require budgetary resources to make it successful. As Tim Riordan and Stephen Sharkley explain in their article, "Hand in Hand: The Role of Culture, Faculty, Identity, and Mission in Sustaining General Education Reform," "If student learning is to be at the heart of an institution's mission, we have learned, recognition of that work and allocation of resources in support of it must be of the highest priority" (2010, p. 214, emphasis in original).

First, there should be ongoing faculty development to improve general education pedagogy. Faculty will likely need to retool existing courses and design new courses to ensure that their students are meeting the revised learning outcomes of a new general education curriculum. In addition, to ensure equity and to maintain and improve retention rates among students of color and first generation college students, faculty will need training to adapt to the shifting demographics of our student population. In their article, "Utilizing Change Theory to Promote General Education Reform: Practical Applications," Stephen C. Zerwas and J. Worth Pickering contend, "Ongoing efforts to provide training and professional development for instructors will be required" (2010, p. 235). Fortunately, the colleges have committed attention and resources to faculty development, as promised in SD 2020, which states: "Develop and implement a Professional Development program that strengthens the faculty and staff's ability to meet the needs of the student body."

The experiences at other colleges prove this is a wise investment, even as institutions face budgetary pressures. For example, despite "the pressures of budget cuts in a lean economic year," the provost at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro "approved funding for faculty development grants to assist faculty in retooling their syllabi to address the revised learning goals and to achieve a successful course recertification" as part of a successful general education reform effort (Rountree, Tolbert, and Zerwas, 2010, p. 34). There is evidence that such investments pay off. Citing the research of Jerry G. Gaff, the Journal of General Education reports "at universities across the country, faculty have responded to development programs with a good deal of enthusiasm. Increased collaboration across disciplines, enhanced pedagogical effectiveness, and improved student satisfaction with their learning experiences in general education courses have been among the reported results (White 1994, p. 200).

In addition to faculty development, student-faculty ratios and class sizes should be maintained at low levels to ensure quality delivery of high-impact educational practices and learning outcomes. In his book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, Andrew Delbanco points out what faculty teaching at small, residential liberal arts colleges already know, that "a small class can help students learn how to qualify their initial responses to hard questions. It can help them learn the difference between informed insights and mere opinionating. It can provide the pleasurable chastisement of discovering that others see the world differently, and that their experience is not replicable by, or even reconcilable with, one's own. At its best, a small class is an exercise in deliberative democracy, in which the teacher is neither oracle nor lawgiver but a kind of provocateur" (2012, pp. 58-59). Discussing the effective delivery of general education, Charles R. White observes that, "small interactive classes do result in increased community, engagement with learning, and faculty-student interaction" (1994, p. 191). At CSB/SJU, the recent increase in the First Year Seminar class size from 16 to 18 is worrisome. Further, there is concern that institutional commitment to the current 12:1 faculty-student ratio is wavering. While we realize that external constraints will make some difficult choices inevitable, we hope that the structure and resources for the general education program will be strong.

In addition to financial resources, commitment to the general education program should be rewarded. For example, general education scholarship and participation should be given high value during Rank &Tenure review. As Karen Maitland Schilling and Dwight Smith write: "An institutional commitment to explicit general education outcomes would suggest that high-quality faculty participation in general education would receive favorable attention in the promotion and tenure process" (2010, p. 36). Junior faculty are sometimes reluctant to teach FYS because they worry that results of the student opinion surveys from these classes will not be as favorable as the results they get when they teach disciplinary courses. Faculty should be rewarded for taking the risks needed to generate meaningful student learning experiences. Paul L. Gaston and Jerry G. Gaff put it this way: "Hence a further requisite is a closer alignment between the value the institution attaches to general education and the rewards it offers to those who teach within it. At the very least, effective teaching within the general education must not function as an impediment to acquiring tenure, promotion, or increases in compensation" (2009, pp. 27-28).

Although there are costs to maintaining a vibrant general education program, the research demonstates that these investments can have positive effects on student retention. Changes in general education requirements have an effect on student retention, as fifty-eight percent of the institutions that adopted comprehensive reform of general education reported retention gains (Gaff 1991, 95). Moreover, these reforms are likely to have positive effects on those students who are most likely to be at risk. High-impact practices found in good general education programs are "things that make learning so engaging that students want to come back," says Ken O'Donnell, senior director of student engagement and academic initiatives and partnerships in the Office of the Chancellor at CSU-East Bay. "And that desire to return seems to be boosted the most with people who are most at risk. When they see, as they go along, how college learning can be applied to life and the real world, then they don't have those nagging questions, 'Why am I taking this course?'" (Kuh and O'Donnell, 2013, p. 25).

3). Provide leadership and a home for the general education program and evaluate the learning outcomes through ongoing assessment

Based on our review of the literature we believe the general education program at CSB/SJU needs a director and a "home base." In their article, "The Ecology of General Education Reform," Gordon Arnold and Janet T. Civian argue that leadership of general education directors is "instrumental in keeping the institution's general education program vital. Institutions without a director at the helm often experienced slow but steady retrenchment of their programs. The challenge is to devise a leadership position that faculty will view as legitimate. Future success of general education programs may depend on improvements in this area" (1997, par. 33).

Colleges and universities that have successfully reformed their general education programs have hired full-time directors to administer newly designed programs. Prior to changes in its general education program, Portland State University had no general education director. However, after its general education task force reviewed "trends in the reform of general education, it became apparent that the long-term success of the program would require a clear administrative point of responsibility, authority, and support." The task force recommended, "a person be designated to be the administrator of the general education program and that this be that person's primary administrative responsibility. We further recommend that this person be assisted and advised by a General Education Faculty Advisory Committee, which will have the responsibility for overseeing and proposing changes in the program as it evolves" (emphasis in original, White 1997, p. 201).

With significant reforms to its general education program, Temple University provided the resources for a director , support staff, and office space, as described by Christopher Dennis, Terry Halbert, and Julie Phillips in their article, "Change and Curricular Physics: Leadership in the Process of Reforming General Education." The authors recount the decisions that immediately revitalized their general education program: "The provost made the director [of general education] a full time administrator, moved an additional faculty member into position as full time administrator (co-director), and authorized the hire of a full time assistant director. The provost also...provided the program with its own office space. This enhancement of general education program staffing and the provision of separate space were communicated broadly and became part of the new president's strategy to depict the program as revitalized with the necessary resources to succeed" (2010, p. 74).

Although both Portland State University and Temple University are larger institutions, the need for a full-time director of general education at CSB/SJU is apparent. Recent years "have seen institution-wide general education programs revised to be more purposeful and more coherent," writes Frederick T. Janzow, John B. Hinni, and Jacqueline R. Johnson. "Campus leaders have recognized that they need someone attending to these matters solely or primarily. Variously called coordinator, director, or dean of general education, these new administrators help to sustain the common vision and secure the connections and support of the individuals, offices, and resources that are needed for the curriculum to achieve its purposes" (1997, p. 504). In addition to regular duties overseeing the program, a full-time director would have the time to establish stronger connections between Academic Affairs, general education, and other divisions and programs, with student development programming connected more explicitly to general education. The director could assist Admissions in explaining how our general education program is distinctive and/or why it is essential for students. The director could work with Academic Advising to articulate the purposes of the general education program and provide students with clear pathways for success.

There also needs to be ongoing and better assessment of the courses in the general education program at CSB/SJU. Currently, assessment of general education courses is left up to individual departments, with varying degrees of quality and consistency. This was pointed out in the report of the Comprehensive Evaluation Visit to St. John's University for the Higher Learning Commission, cited previously. Earlier in this report, we discussed the potential of VALUE rubrics, signature work and e-portfolios to provide meaningful evidence of student achievements. We believe a point person needs to be in charge of coordinating these practices and collecting the results, as APSAC is often overworked and focused on reviewing departmental assessment data.

 4). Ensure continued quality with a curriculum that serves as a common foundation and language

According to its web page, the Association for General and Liberal Studies values education practiced as a commitment to a set of ongoing activities:  "making institutional choices about the most important goals for student learning and defining the learning in terms of desired outcomes; developing a shared faculty commitment to actions such as high impact, active learning strategies and faculty development designed to increase student achievement; making informed judgments about student achievement and the impact of various general education program support processes; and ensuring continuous improvements in the educational program." With a coherent general education curriculum that places students on developmentally appropriate pathways to success from the First Year Seminar to the Ethics Seminar and Capstone, CSB/SJU can emerge as leaders in general education reform, design, and delivery.