Significance of the general education curriculum

This statement was prepared by the academic affairs committee and was approved by executive council at APSCUF's February 2016 legislative assembly. It emphasizes institutional control, broad general educational goals, and values the liberal arts.

APSCUF Position Statement on the Significance of the General Education Curriculum

The Association for Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) remains committed to supporting and maintaining a general education curriculum as defined by both our regional accrediting body, The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). More than two decades ago, the PASSHE Board of Governors clearly defined the objectives of general education in Policy 1993-01: General Education at State System of Higher Education Universities. The universities have since fulfilled the charge of this policy, and APSCUF fully supports the assertion that:

(W)hile study within and across the arts and sciences disciplines forms the basis for the general education curriculum, the most important outcomes — the liberal education outcomes — will consist not so much in the mastery of particular bodies of knowledge as in the acquisition of the skills, values, awareness, understanding, perspective, and appreciation needed for continuing professional and personal growth in a rapidly changing world. To achieve the outcomes of a liberal education, imaginative, deliberate, and rigorous approaches to the design of general education and to its integration with other parts of the curriculum and the college experience are called for. (p. 2)

To this end, the PASSHE institutions with APSCUF readily adopted the recommended procedures for developing, sustaining, improving general education programs while also developing strategies to keep general education goals current with the demands of a changing global community. The institutions communicate the significance of general education at all levels within and beyond the campuses; the systemwide commitment is apparent on university websites that reiterate the nine general education goals articulated by PASSHE Policy 1993-01. as follows:

In developing or reviewing their own goal statements, designing general education curricula, and considering the integration of general education with the rest of the undergraduate curricula, State System university faculty and administrators should use these goals as guidelines or benchmarks.

1. Skill in various forms of inquiry, abstract logical thinking, inductive reasoning, critical analysis, and ability to find and use information.

2. Communication skills — including those required for effective reading, writing, speaking, and listening — and awareness of the challenges of cross-cultural communication.

3. Ability to understand numerical data and use mathematical methods for analysis and problem-solving.

4. Basic understanding of the natural and social sciences and their significance in contemporary society.

5. Historical consciousness, i.e., understanding of ideas, events, persons, and creative expressions from the past.

6. Awareness of the social, economic, political, and environmental interdependence of countries and regions of the world.

7. Understanding of how people's experiences and perspectives are shaped by gender, ethnicity, culture, and other factors that distinguish groups of people, coupled with recognition of common elements within human experience that transcend time, space, race, and circumstances.

8. Appreciation of and experience with literature and the arts.

9. Understanding of the role of values in personal, professional, and civic life; experience in recognizing and analyzing ethical issues. (p.3)

The effectiveness of Policy 1993-01 and the success of its implementation is attributable to the fact that these stated principles are consistent with the traditions of liberal education viewed through the lens of a rapidly changing world. APSCUF faculty understand the validity of these stated principles through what we have learned in our research and in the ways we see our students apply their educations in their careers and communities.

Our accrediting body, MSCHE, also recognizes these goals. Indeed, the statements articulated by MSCHE and PASSHE are similar, but Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education, the MSCHE (2009) document that defines Standards for Accreditation, is clear on two additional elements: the curriculum should be developed by faculty, and it should reflect the mission of the institution.

A general education program — developed, owned, and reviewed by the institution’s faculty — should be purposeful, coherent, engaging, and rigorous. General education skills may be taught or developed as part of courses in the major, in separate courses, or through a decentralized distribution. However, the skills and knowledge derived from general education and the major should be integrated because general education and study in depth, together, comprise a quality undergraduate education. Institutions offering the associate and baccalaureate degrees will strike an appropriate balance between specialized and more general knowledge. The institution’s ability to demonstrate that its students are able to integrate and apply in different contexts the core knowledge and skills learned in their course work is a critical component of successful undergraduate educational programs. (p. 47)

General education offerings should reflect the particular programs and mission of the institution. However, general education courses should not focus narrowly on those skills, techniques, and procedures specific to a particular occupation or profession. The content of general education within specialized degree programs should be comparable, though not necessarily identical, to traditional academic offerings at the collegiate level or above. (p. 48)

APSCUF is committed to general education and recognizes its importance in higher education. The universal adoption and implementation of PASSHE Policy 1993-01 is a testament to a shared commitment of PASSHE and APSCUF to preparing our students for the expectations of the 21st century. APSCUF also recognizes that the general education curriculum must be developed and reviewed by faculty and that this practice will keep the general education curriculum at each university consistent with the “mission of the institution.” Indeed, general education is ultimately the common element that each university gives each of its graduates and, as such, it shapes an institution’s identity.