Models should continue to utilize and improve high-impact educational practices, but do so in a way that is purposeful and integrative, providing students with multiple opportunities to improve their skills.
Earlier in this report we summarized the high-impact educational practices promoted by AAC&U: First Year Seminar and Experiences, Common Intellectual Experiences, Learning Communities, Writing-Intensive Courses, Collaborative Assignments and Projects, Undergraduate Research, Diversity and Global Learning, Service Learning and Community-Based Learning, Internships, and Capstone Courses and Projects. According to reports conducted by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) students typically participate in fewer than two of the high-impact educational practices. AAC&U has done its own studies and found that, on average, students engage in between 1 and 2 (1.3) HIP. (Schneider, Liberal Education, 2015, p. 10). Although data on CSB/SJU students is not available, we expect that the number is much higher here, as many of these practices are already embedded in our curriculum.
But student exposure to some of these practices, such as writing-intensive courses or courses with collaborative assignments, is often assumed and not assured. This is a situation that is typical of curricula based on a distributional/elective model. Derek Bok confirms this in his book, Higher Education in America: "For example, faculties assume that students will develop oral communication skills and acquire an adequate civic education simply by completing the four-year undergraduate program, or that competence in moral reasoning or expository writing can be attained in a single course, or that the capabilities (along with other aims, such as development of 'global awareness' or quantitative skills) will be achieved if the faculty is urged to incorporate the necessary material into their existing courses" (2013, p. 174). These assumptions need to be challenged.
In addition to offering high-impact practices, we need to make certain that students have multiple, repeated opportunities to practice them. Research also shows that high-impact practices are most desirable when eight key elements are featured:
As noted earlier, one of the strengths of the CSB/SJU Common Curriculum is its heavy reliance on high-impact practices. We feel the HIPs should also be a feature of a revised curriculum design, with assurances that students have encounter these practices in their coursework throughout their years in college. Reform efforts should also focus on enhancing the two HIPs not currently emphasized in the Common Curriculum-Common Intellectual Experiences and Learning Communities. In the feedback provided to CCVC, faculty requested more opportunities to include these kind of learning experiences in their coursework.
Models should consider alternatives to the distribution or "cafeteria style" model of General Education.
The Irvine Group, a collection of former university and college presidents and chancellors, released a report summarizing their review of reforms in the 1980s, stating: "Over the past decade, undergraduate renewal has relied on curricular patterns that have not worked well. Outmoded distribution requirements, for example, where students select courses from broad academic fields have failed to accomplish what is intended. These courses amount to electives, not general education. For too many undergraduates, their educations do not fit into a coherent whole, and the distribution of courses is more frequently the result of campus political considerations than of educational ones" (cited in White 1994, p. 171). Although the Irvine Group reached its conclusions a quarter of a century ago, many general education programs-including ours-- still adhere to a distribution model "organized mainly as an a la carte menu of disconnected survey courses" that "falls far short of its intended horizon-expanding purposes...students too often find that their broad or general learning is fragmented, incoherent, and frustrating" (Schneider, "Foreword," 2015, p. v).
We agree that a "check the box" system, which students are eager to finish quickly in their first two years of college, "too often results in uncoordinated coursework that does not directly address student's interests and needs, does very little to develop proficiencies necessary either for work or for citizenship, and is unclear about results" (General Education Maps and Markers, 2015, p. 6). Therefore, we encourage modelers to construct a curriculum that moves away from this approach if possible.
Authors of models are expected to demonstrate how their curriculum designs fulfill the learning outcomes discussed by the faculty and approved by the Joint Faculty Senate. At the 2014 Fall Faculty Workshop, we asked participants to describe the features of a CSB/SJU graduate. In their own reform process, authors Roseanne M. Mirabella and Mary M. Balkun asked a similar question: "Rather than focusing on content, we decided to focus on student outcomes, posing the question that would guide our work over the course of seven years: 'What do we want our students to become?' This broad question permitted faculty to engage in conversations about general education and the purpose of a liberal arts education without raising concerns about departmental courses or hires" (2011, p. 217).
At Alverno College, "the general education program is better seen less as a distribution system of content arranged as a compromise among competing academic interests, and more as a way to arrange the teaching and assessment of student learning outcomes that we think are crucial" (Riordan and Sharkley 2010, p. 203). We think the same type of conversation is possible at CSB/SJU, and we expect those who design curriculum models will be guided by the learning outcomes approved by the faculty.
Curriculum designs should make the General Education program more coherent, intentional, and cumulative.
At the 2014 Fall Faculty Workshop, Lee Knefelkamp pointed out that students often perceive general education as a "collecting of dots" experience rather than a "connecting the dots" experience. In a candid assessment of the undergraduate general education requirements at his own university, professor Mark Bauerlin framed it this way: "Let's be honest about how it appears to 19-year-olds. They see such an 'array' [of general education courses] as merely a bunch of random, disconnected courses outside their major. The courses they finish don't cohere into a 'core' or a 'common experience.' They're just a bunch of heterogeneous hoops to pass through" (quoted in Gaston 2015, p. 12). While the current Common Curriculum is focused on course collecting, the new general education program should be focused on making connections.
In the literature on reform, it is widely argued that a general education curriculum should be coherent and integrative. For example, Paul Gaston writes in 2015: "Students must be able to understand how its different elements fit together, how they contribute to degree-level learning outcomes, and how they offer preparation for further study and career advancement. As general education enables students to demonstrate assessable proficiencies, cumulative understanding, and improved discernment, students will stop thinking of their general education requirements as something to 'get out of the way' and perceive them instead as a means to achieving genuine intellectual growth" (p. 17) Bobby Fong concurs, arguing in his essay, "Liberal Education in the 21st Century": "...liberal education is not achieved by taking any number of classes, but rather by intentionally patterning courses of study that link and synthesize ways of knowing and doing" (2004, p. 12).
A curriculum that places students on intentional pathways to growth will prepare them better for meeting the challenges they will face after they graduate. "A further accomplishment, which every institution would surely hope for, would be that students experience those discrete classes not as isolated and unrelated experiences but as integral parts of a coherent whole," writes Marc Lowenstein. "Students who achieve this can understand the ways in which these parts complement, contrast with, and support each other and how they all contribute to a meaningful understanding of the world. These students will also be more intentionally aware of the transferrable skills their institutions want them to develop but which are often lost sight of amid a focus on content in their courses. The integrated overview and enhanced intentionality, furthermore, create the best possible platform for a lifetime of learning since they provide a context for new experiences and ideas as they are encountered" (2015, p. 121).
There are a number of possible ways "connections" can be made in the general education curriculum:
a) Make General Education Coherent by Scaffolding Courses.
Curricular pathways should be established that are intentional, sequential, and scaffolded to allow students to enhance their skills as they progress through the curriculum.
The Common Curriculum has two "bookend" experiences-FYS and the Ethics Common Seminar. What happens in between is often random, with little intentionality or developmental logic. Instead, courses should be arranged in purposeful, sequential pathways that allow for repeated practice of core skills and proficiencies.
General education programs like the Common Curriculum are often arranged as a collection of single course experiences, but the literature discourages this approach. "The underlying approach to general education learning reflected in the inoculation model of the last century-if students need to write, take a writing course; if students need ethical reasoning, take a philosophy course; if students need global understanding, take a course with an international focus-is no longer adequate," Terrel L. Rhodes writes in General Education and Liberal Learning in 2010. "The research on cognitive development, deep learning, and mastery supports the value of intentional approaches to learning that are iterative, recurring, incremental, and progressively more challenging as students move through their educational careers. There are benefits to approaches that provide students with multiple opportunities to apply their learning to new, unscripted problems, and that are scaffolded in ways that allow students to develop their skills and abilities in intentional ways" (p. 5).
In the Common Curriculum, we assume students practice writing, discussion, and oral communication skills beyond FYS but nothing in the design of the curriculum assures proficiency in these skills. This is the same situation Portland State University faced before they redesigned their general education curriculum. "When our students reach the upper-division level, we expect them to have been prepared through their lower-division work to be able to frame questions, identify and examine relevant original source materials, and produce a paper, project, or experiment which demonstrates advanced academic ability," writes Charles R. White. "Yet, our upper division courses are filled with nonmajors seeking to fulfill the distribution requirements but often without sufficient background to grasp the material and meet the performance standards expected. While many of our students do remarkably well, we faculty often express dissatisfaction with the performance of our students. Students, on the other hand, express dissatisfaction, frustration, fear, and occasional anger that they seem to have missed something important along the way and are not always able to meet the expectations placed upon them" (1993, p. 169).
If the curriculum was scaffolded so that students had repeated, multiple opportunities to practice skills and habits of mind, at carefully sequenced and ratcheted levels of challenge, then students could be better prepared for advanced coursework. This point is emphasized by Ann S. Ferren in her article, "Intentionality," in 2010: "Strong programs...emphasize above all student understanding of the scaffold of learning built through a sequence of related courses and cumulative experiences" (p. 29). Karen Maitland Schilling and Dwight Smith suggest: "Increasingly, faculty members are recognizing the importance of 'scaffolding' in the design of curricula. Teachers of writing have long argued that the complex skills and competencies required by a new century develop only through incremental emphasis, but we have come to realize that all essential learning develops most fully through work that is cumulative, integrative, and reflective...Dated notions of specific outcomes attached to 'my course' for 'my students' have in strong programs given way to emphases on partnering to achieve a cumulative impact" (2010, p. 34). The research demonstrates that students benefit from programs that scaffold learning opportunities over time. After initial exposure to a particular learning objective or proficiency, students have additional opportunities for practice, reflection, revision, feedback, and improvement. This may require that students complete coursework that addresses each learning outcome more than once.
b) Integrate General Education with the Majors.
More explicit connections should be made between general education requirements and the major. General education should be integrated with the majors.
General education and the major are often seen as separate programs. Instead, revised curriculum designs should seek ways to integrate general education and the major. General education courses "must prime the student for the learning major programs offer. Similarly, the major must act in concert with general education by placing value on general education proficiencies and by enabling students to continue to develop those proficiencies" (Gaston 2015, p. 17). That way, general education programs are not solely responsible for the development of student skills.
Explicit connection between general education courses and the major is consistent with the previous point of intentionality and sequential learning. As students "develop in stages and move from lower to higher levels of intellectual development," they accumulate deeper knowledge and master skills that require them "to connect and transfer learning from one assignment, course, or experience to others in a learning progression. Therefore, some ability to synthesize learning across disciplines, across general education and the major, and between the curriculum and the cocurriculum is needed" (Sopper 2015, p. 143).
Also, when general education learning outcomes are connected to majors, students begin to appreciate the relevance and importance of their general education coursework. Peggy Maki explains in 2010: "Orienting students to general education outcomes and continuing to connect students to these outcomes in their major programs of study contribute to students' ownership of this core learning, as well as to their deepened understanding of the relevance of general education" (p. 46).
However, a "connection" should not be assumed simply because a department offers a course that serves both as an introductory course to the major and as a disciplinary designation in a general education curriculum. Increasingly, scholars of general education have questioned this approach. In his article, "Tensions and Models in General Education Planning," Robert R. Newton argues: "The curriculum is drawn from the disciplines because the disciplines contain the knowledge future citizens will require. But rather than, for example, giving students a rigorous introduction to basic chemistry, a general education course should develop an understanding of what chemistry is, how it interprets and shapes the modern world, and what critical challenges it poses to humanity. The objective is not to train a scientist but to educate graduates with the scientific literacy essential to be effective citizens" (2000, p. 175). Many outside programs have policies that prevent departments from counting introductory courses to the major as general education requirements. For example, at Temple University, general education courses may not be required introductions to a specific major or minor. (At Temple, a Gen Ed course may be accepted by a major or minor to fulfill elective requirements.) General education models should consider ways to integrate general education and the major but may need to reconsider the logic of disciplinary requirements, especially those met by introductory courses to a major.
c) Establish "Interdisciplinary Concentrations."
Connections should be made across disciplines, especially through "interdisciplinary concentrations" or thematic clusters.
SD2020 calls for the development of "interdisciplinary concentrations" of courses linked thematically by topic across a variety of disciplines. The literature often refers to these course groupings as "thematic clusters," and they are promoted as effective ways to enhance interdisciplinary learning. For example, Charles R. White writes: "The research supports an interdisciplinary, thematic approach, more tightly structured clusters of courses, and an interdisciplinary core, use of mentored clusters, extension throughout the four years, linkage of the program to articulated goals" (1994, p. 191).
Generally clusters function as groups of 3-4 courses that focus on a single topic approached from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. At Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU), a private liberal arts university in Lincoln, Nebraska, faculty recently replaced many of the old distribution requirements in their general education program with an integrated core in which students complete two course "threads." Part of their "Archways" program, each thread is a series of three courses linked by a common theme of significance. For example, at NWU there is a "global warming" thread that includes courses in Biology, English, and Political Science. "While the individual courses are still based in discrete disciplines, the connections between these disciplines are made explicit as students approach the same issue in each class with a different set of perspectives and problem-solving tools" ("An Integrative Approach," 2013, par. 2).
Santa Clara University (SCU) has "Pathways," which include thematically linked courses across the university's curriculum. The process begins at the end of the sophomore year. Twenty-four Pathways are offered, on topics ranging from Sustainability, Applied Ethics, the Digital Age, Beauty, and Democracy. Students complete a selection of four Pathway courses, with no more than two from the same discipline. At SCU, Pathway courses can overlap with other general education requirements or requirements for the major or minor. In addition, students are asked to complete a reflective essay on their own, demonstrating how they have integrated ideas from the various courses ("Encouraging Integrative Learning," 2013).
CCVC sees thematic clusters as a way of connecting disciplines with the general education curriculum in ways that encourage and support interdisciplinary cooperation. The instructors of these courses can work together to set objectives for the clusters that advance student understanding of a particular issue, question or topic. Surprisingly, this is often overlooked, even in programs that have clusters in their curricula. A general education task force at Penn State University recently conducted a benchmarking activity to determine how a range of institutions used "themes" in their general education programs. Although their search was not exhaustive, they only discovered one program (at Appalachian State University) that appeared to mandate that faculty teaching within a theme had to work together to ensure integration among courses (a feature we believe is critical to the success of the clusters).
While clusters offer the opportunity for team-teaching, this would not be necessary for them to be successful, as long as faculty development funds were available so instructors of courses in the cluster had opportunities to work with each other to plan the design and integration of the clusters. Clearly, the development of "interdisciplinary concentrations" at CSB/SJU is an opportunity to make our general education program distinctive.
d) Demonstrate Integrative Learning Through "Signature Work."
Students can demonstrate Integrative Learning and Problem-Based Inquiry through "Signature Work."
The focal point of AAC&U's LEAP Challenge is the "Signature Work" project. With Signature Work, each student accomplishes a project on a significant problem over the course of a semester or longer. Signature Work can be a research project, a capstone experience, a service learning project, or another form.
These are the characteristics of Signature Work projects:
As noted earlier, the Common Curriculum already utilizes many high-impact practices such as experiential learning. Beyond the general education requirements, students participate in capstone courses and have internships. However, AAC&U's goal is to make Signature Work "essential and expected, rather than available and optional." Also, AAC&U envisions Signature Work as more purposefully integrative and interdisciplinary, and involving substantial writing and reflection.
One interesting possibility is to make Signature Work projects a feature of the new "interdisciplinary concentrations" mentioned above and required by SD 2020. These clusters of courses could be arranged so students are expected to produce a significant written essay that incorporates each of the disciplinary perspectives covered in the cluster. Each student might then be expected to deliver a public presentation of the results of the project, demonstrating how she or he integrated the various perspectives as they examined a significant problem. The work could then be part of the student's e-portfolio. (For an example of how Signature Work could be incorporated into a general education curriculum, see Appendix G, "Sample Guided Pathway with Signature Work.")
e) Improve Connections with Activities Outside the Classroom.
Improved connections should be encouraged between events and activities outside the classroom and the General Education program, including reflection on Fine Arts Experiences in general education courses.
Often, the general education curriculum is designed in isolation without considering its linkage to the co-curriculum, but this contravenes the advice of the literature. In their article, "Learning Outside the Box: Making Connections Between Co-Curricular Activities and the Curriculum," Myra Wilhite and Liz Banset describe the importance of linking the co-curriculum to the curriculum: "Students have much to gain from the integration of co-curricular activities into the curriculum. In out-of-class experiences, students tend to take greater responsibility for their own learning; they learn from one another as well as their instructors. In addition, co- curricular activities promote personal growth, physical and mental health, academic achievement, social and cultural awareness, and help students formulate short- and long-range goals" (1998-99, par. 7). There are diverse co-curricular activities and services at CSB/SJU, including athletics, counseling, career services, student activities, campus recreation, intercultural and international student services, campus ministry, upward bound, orientation, health promotion, campus conduct, student human rights, the Institute for Women's Leadership, and the Men's Development Institute, as well as numerous academic events.
Even within the curriculum, the Fine Arts Experience (FAE) requirements are not always integrated into coursework. There are not enough opportunities for students to discuss their FAE experiences and make connections with course material. Students resent requirements without purpose, as indicated in the student feedback received. If students had to reflect on these experiences in the context of a course, it is likely they would understand their relevance and importance.
While there are numerous strengths of CSB/SJU co-curricular programming, there needs to be more purposeful and intentional integration of all activities in the general education curriculum, including the speakers, conferences, and other academic events that occur outside of the classroom. In the feedback provided to CCVC, students expressed interest in having these activities better integrated in their coursework.
While the composite academic profile of new entering CSB and SJU students has been stable in recent years, many of the social, cultural, and economic characteristics of our new students have changed, according to an environmental scan completed by the CSB/SJU Strategic Directions Council in preparation for SD 2020. According to the report, the most notable change has occurred in enrollment of students of color. In fall 2013, students of color comprised 18% of all new students at CSB and 16% of new students at SJU, the highest number and proportion ever at each institution. Since fall 2009, the number of new students of color has nearly doubled at CSB, and increased by two-thirds at SJU (Strategic Directions 2020 Environmental Scan, p. 12).
As noted in the Strategic Directions 2020 Environmental Scan, new students of color at CSB and SJU "are significantly more likely than their peers to come from families without a college experience. In fall 2013, 42% of all new entering students of color came from families where neither parent had any education beyond high school. Only 40% of all new students of color indicated that at least one of their parents had earned a bachelor's degree, compared to 80% of new white students. In part a reflection of lower levels of family educational attainment, students of color at CSB and SJU also are highly overrepresented among lower income students. There are wide gaps in entering test scores, as well. The average ACT composite score for new students of color at CSB and SJU in fall 2013 was 22.5, compared to 26.1 among white students" (p. 12).
While the composition of our student body is changing, we have not made corresponding changes in our general education requirements. This is unfortunate, given the intersection of equity-related issues and general education pedagogy and delivery. As the AAC&U contends,
"General education programs should advance practices and policies that are aimed at achieving the full spectrum of learning outcomes for all students regardless of their backgrounds" (GEMs p. 3). Keith Witham and his colleagues point out, "we cannot address equity in higher education separately from core educational design. Rather we must make equity a key framework for any reform-one that is explicitly and deliberately wedded to the goals for educational excellence and student achievement" (2015, p. 1). In particular, we must "consider the ways in which the content of our general education curriculum empowers students who have experiences marginalization and instills in all students the knowledge, values, and ideals that are crucial to counteract the economic and racial polarization that threatens our nation" (2015, p. 1).
For example, research shows that racial and ethnic minorities, as well as first-generation college students, often do not participate in as many high-impact educational practices as majority students (Finley and McNair 2013). Data on the participation and success rates of CSB/SJU students of color and first-generation students, especially in relation to HIPs, FYS, and the Common Curriculum, needs to be generated. Fortunately, the colleges have made a commitment in the strategic plan to provide opportunities to historically underserved students. SD 2020 states: "Secure new resources to ensure that students of all means are able to participate in study abroad, internships, student research, service learning and co-curricular activities." In addition to resources, we need to consider how curriculum design can affect the participation and performance of these students.
Models should have an assessment plan to demonstrate that students have achieved the learning outcomes.
CSB/SJU has made efforts to assess our general education requirements. Results from the 2013 administration of the National Survey of Student Engagement indicate that, when compared to students at institutions in the same Carnegie classification, our First-Year students' average evaluation of the collaborative learning environment and the quality of interactions were significantly higher. On the other hand, when compared to their peers at similar institutions within the same Carnegie class, the average of our Fourth-Year students' evaluation of effective teaching practices was significantly lower. The CLA has been administered at CSB/SJU every year since 2007-2008. In the 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013 administrations, our institutional value-added scores were lower than our peer CLA institutions. In the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2010-2011 administrations, our institutional value-added scores were higher than our peer CLA-comparison institutions. In addition, continuous progress is being made, though assessment workshops and faculty and staff research, to measure student learning in the experiential, gender, and intercultural courses of the Common Curriculum.
However, the process for assessment of the Common Curriculum needs to be reconsidered. In the report of the Comprehensive Evaluation Visit to St. John's University, October 13-15, 2008, for the Higher Learning Commission, the evaluators recognized the difficulty of assessing the Common Curriculum learning goals: "While the new Common Curriculum has learning outcomes, based on interviews and a review of the outcomes, the team believes that many of them are too broad to be measured effectively. The team recommends that the institution develop a process for assessing the Common Curriculum in a way that more clearly measures student learning and then use that information to improve student learning" (p. 15, the same quote is in CSB report). As models of curricular reform are developed, efforts should be taken to ensure that they are supported by sound assessment practices. Some faculty have adverse reactions to assessment efforts, but as Jeremy D. Penn points out in his article, "The Case for Assessing Complex General Education Learning Outcomes," "Demands for accountability are not always unreasonable" (2011, p. 12).
Fortunately, much work has already been done to make the assessment of general education learning outcomes more reasonable. For example, the AAC&U has collaborated with faculty from over 100 member institutions to create VALUE Rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) that enable instructors to measure and document student accomplishment on 16 learning outcomes: inquiry and analysis, critical thinking, writing, integrative learning, oral communication, information literacy, problem solving, teamwork, intercultural knowledge, civic engagement, creative thinking, quantitative literacy, lifelong learning, ethical reasoning, global learning, and reading. The VALUE rubrics help institutions assess accomplishments across stages that are developmentally more challenging as the students progress through the curriculum. "VALUE represents, in my view, a real breakthrough in the assessment of college student learning," writes John Sullivan. "Such a system of learning outcomes assessment can provide continuous improvement in student and institutional performance, while at the same time providing the evidence of student learning that those who finance and subsidize American higher education-families, government, and charitable donors-deserve" (2015, par. ). For an example of one of these rubrics, see Appendix K.
While attending the 2015 AAC&U Institute, CCVC members were introduced to e-portfolios as a tool used by many institutions to collect assessment data and to enable students to compile the work they have done to meet the learning outcomes of a general education program (Chen 2015). E-portfolios are "digital repositories of student learning artifacts selected by the students themselves" (Peden 27). While new to us, the use of e-portfolios is a national trend that offers student opportunities to integrate the learning they have achieved over their college career, in multiple disciplines and in the cocurriculum. Ryan McLawhon and Loraine H. Phillips describe the benefits of e-portfolios in The Journal of General Education in 2013: "Aside from reforming the curriculum and undergraduate experience, the use of e-portfolios is also an option for looking at across-discipline learning outcomes in general education. With e-portfolios, students have the opportunity to reflect on their work, and instructors can assess whether certain general education learning outcomes have been demonstrated based on the students' work" (p. 206). Writing in Liberal Education in 2015, Wilson Peden emphasizes the value of e-portfolios in promoting reflective thinking on the part of students about how they will or have fulfilled the general education learning outcomes: "As they select representative learning artifacts, students must think deeply about the college's learning outcomes, the degree to which they have achieved these learning outcomes, and which assignments are representative of these achievements...Like capstone projects, e-portfolios facilitate integrative thinking, prompting students to draw together strands of learning from a range of disciplines and from the cocurriculum" (p. 27).
We are similarly enthusiastic about the potential of e-portfolios but agree with the literature that the emphasis should not be on presenting student accomplishments to employers. Rather, students should use e-portfolios as "tools for personal reflection in their learning" (Peden 2015, p. 28). With the proper training beginning in FYS, students could learn to archive work, select work samples, and begin the process of reflecting on their work in a way that demonstrates they are intentional and reflective about their learning and self-aware of the transformation facilitated by the general education program.
Models should consider the re-branding of general education and the "Common Curriculum."
At the same time or following adoption of a curricular model, a name should be given to the general education program that better describes its features, components, or purposes. Currently, although its name suggests common experiences, the "Common Curriculum" is largely a distribution model and students can move through it in very different ways. Also, as currently named, the Common Curriculum may be a recruiting liability. Admissions staff told CCVC that prospective students and their parents often perceive the "Common Curriculum" to be ordinary (and potentially irrelevant). The current "branding" of the Common Curriculum encourages questions about how quickly the requirements can be completed or how many college preparatory courses can substitute for general education requirements. The term Common Curriculum suggests that our program is like every other general education curriculum.
Admittedly, the terms used in the general education literature are not inspiring either. Eric R. White reports this problem in 2013: "Starting with the words that have been used to identify that part of the curriculum beyond the major, the challenges are obvious. The term general education is so vague that it defies definition and actually invites criticism. Liberal studies, as an alternative, has proved unworkable in an era when new meanings that are less than positive have been applied to the word liberal. Even the terms core and distributional provide little insight into the nature of this part of the curriculum. Breadth versus depth also shortchanges general education, since depth has become the endgame and breadth has been reduced to superficiality" (p. 139). Still, we believe our general education program could have a name that is more accurate and that communicates distinctiveness.
Finally, one of the assumptions we are making is that proposed design changes to the general education program do not make it impossible for students to graduate in four years. Model designers should keep in mind that the general education program will not be able to accomplish everything-this is why the program must be integrated with the majors, so that the burden of providing high-impact practices does not fall solely upon the general education program.