External Program Review
Shawnee State University's General Education Program
This report is filed by Professors John Hinni, Retired Dean of University Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, and John Gottcent, University Core Coordinator at the University of Southern Indiana. Together with three members of the Shawnee State faculty (Patric Leedom, Associate Professor of Teacher Education; Janna Gallaher, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Engineering Technology; and Nicholas Meriwether, Assistant Professor of Philosophy), we constitute the Program Review Team charged with evaluating the General Education Program at Shawnee State University by identifying its strengths and recommending further improvements.
Prior to visiting the campus, we reviewed the University's catalog and its thorough Self-Study of the General Education Program (GEP). On February 11-12, 1999, we spent two days on campus conferring with faculty, administrators, staff, and students. (Please refer to Appendix 1 for the self-study report and Appendix 2 for the itinerary.) This report summarizes our findings; it is divided into five sections, corresponding to those reflected in the Self-Study: Role/ Scope/Program Design, Curriculum, Students, Faculty, and Governance/Resources.
1. Role, Scope, Program Design
Shawnee State University has developed an excellent foundation for general education. Program goals are related to institutional mission and they are directed toward students. The Self-Study document is exceptionally well-developed reflecting considerable thought as to ways to improve the program. It is particularly laudable that concern for students is pervasive throughout materials describing the program.
- Shawnee State University should create a campus dialogue focused on general education with the goal of increasing awareness of the important role the program should have for the entire university community.
A wide range of understanding about general education exists on campus. Students tend to view the program as a set of unconnected courses to be overcome and they mentioned a lack of rigor in some general education courses. They also see little or no relationship between the program and their intended careers.
Faculty views range widely from general education providing introductory subject matter in selected disciplines to providing students with exposure to the salient features of the liberal arts. Clearly a huge difference of opinion about departmental access to the teaching of general education courses exists in the University's two colleges.
We suggest that a range of initiatives be developed to implement this dialogue. For example, the existing general education web page could be further developed, a handbook to complement the university catalog could be published, orientation activities might be expanded to include closer attention to general education, parents might be involved in general education orientation as parents are an unused resource at most institutions, the in-house TV channel might be used, student government colloquia developed, faculty awareness CEU's created and a freshman seminar developed.
These and other initiatives will serve to increase awareness of general education and focus attention on student learning outcomes, that is, the forms of enhancement of the humanity of Shawnee State students, that will result from the program.
- We recommend that the word "General" not be used in the program title.
The word "general" implies introductory subject matter, the information everyone should know. It also may imply a lack of rigor. In reality, Shawnee State students should understand that every university strives to provide an academic program that enhances their humanity, their understanding of themselves, of their lives and their roles in society and the world.
When students enter Shawnee State they believe a major will result in a future career. They have little or no understanding of general/liberal education and they should be made aware of all academic programs. Special efforts should be made to describe general/liberal education to them. The term "general" is not conducive to this goal.
- We recommend that the size of the general education program be increased in terms of hours, with attention being given to the state's Articulation and Transfer Policy.
General education at Shawnee State comprises slightly over twenty-five percent of the baccalaureate degree while the national mean is slightly over thirty-nine percent. In "A Study of General Education Programs at the University of Memphis and its Peer Institutions," 4-15-96, a survey found that "In a national sample of 302 general education programs (with emphasis on research, doctoral, and comprehensive institutions), the average number of semester hours [for general education] was 49.2, 39.5% of the total hours required for a degree."
Further, the Ohio Board of Regent's Articulation and Transfer Policy requires more hours than are currently in the Shawnee State program. To bring SSU's GEP into compliance with the Transfer Module's minimum of 54 quarter hours of 100 and 200 level courses, and to bring the University’s total general education requirement closer to the national average, SSU would need to add 16 quarter hours of 100 and 200 level courses, thus resulting in a GEP that is 34% of the total hours required for graduation (assuming a degree of 186 quarter hours).
- We recommend that where possible the general education goals and objectives be redefined in measurable terms.
Program goals should be clearly stated in terms of student learning outcomes as well as conducive to course development, course review, program review and assessment.
Program goals and objectives also serve to characterize the program. They provide the connection among courses and they distinguish general education courses from other courses. As such their importance cannot be over emphasized.
We find the General Education curriculum to be young and vital, with potential for good development. It already features several strong points, including a junior-level ethics requirement, an admirable Senior Seminar requirement, and a truly interdisciplinary science course. This foundation can be built upon via the following recommendations.
- We recommend that efforts be made to give the Shawnee State General Education Program's curriculum a more visible identity, with clear delineation between the lower and upper levels.
In addition to the new name and additional credit hours recommended above, we were intrigued by a recommendation from Shawnee State's president, Dr. James Chapman, that every student who completes the lower levels of the GEP should receive at that point an Associate's Degree. While some details need to be worked out (for example, the fact that the Senior Seminar requirement will delay completion of the GEP until quite late in students' careers), we believe that some such recognition--perhaps a certificate, if a degree proves too difficult to implement--will bring greater recognition of the program to students and the University community.
- We recommend adjustments in several curricular policies related to the GEP.
It is not a good idea to use the curriculum to solve non-curricular problems. For example, when students say they want more options in course selection, a natural response is to tinker with the curriculum by providing more choices in each GEP category. But another, perhaps wiser option, might be to educate students (e.g., in a Freshman Seminar) to the reasons why limited course lists might be preferable.
A particular case in point involves the Non-Western Perspectives component of the program. This admirable goal can be met by choosing from a variety of non-western courses in various departments, or by completing 12 sequenced credit hours in foreign language. If the foreign language is Persian, the latter option makes sense, but if it is Spanish or another western language, it does not.
It is a good idea, however, to broaden the scope of the GEP's Social Sciences category to include disciplines such as psychology and economics. This is not to pander to student whims, but to bring the Shawnee State program more in line with definitions of the social sciences at comparable institutions.
- We recommend a limit on double-dipping: using the same course toward both the major and the GEP. A maximum of two double-dipped courses per student might be advisable.
The limit on double-dips is important because few courses can serve two masters. If they are primarily for the major, they are rarely general education, and vice versa. Faculty need to realize that not everything they do in their classes, however valuable, is general education.
- We recommend a review and assessment procedure that includes a sunset law under which each General Education course will be re-evaluated for its continued relevancy to the program every three to five years (discussed later under section 5). To assist in this review process, we recommend that for ALL GEP courses, the syllabi include 2-4 pages of "Boiler Plate" or template which will 1) explain the goals and objectives of the GEP; 2) explain the relationship of the GEP to the students' degree program, ("Why am I taking...?"); 3) provide explanation for how this particular course relates to the GEP goals and objectives; and 4) states student learning outcomes for this particular course.
This meets President Chapman's concerns to show first, what the purpose is--why student is taking this GEP course; and secondly, "How you relate to yourself, your world, and society around you." This is a direct way of informing both students and faculty about the GEP (few students and some faculty ever read the Catalog or other available handbooks). By having a type of "Master Syllabus," this would support having greater consistency and more rigor both across sections of the same course and between various courses in the GEP. Graphics could be used to present relationships among courses and academic expectations as well. This "Boiler Plate" could be generated by the General Education Council. The "Boiler Plate" portions of all GEP courses could be reproduced and made into a section of the Faculty Advising Handbook (which is currently undergoing revision.
- We recommend that with the construction of GEP courses that increased attention be given to targeted intellectual skills-- assisting students to develop information processing and evaluating skills.
In this age of information (knowledge) explosion, we can not keep cramming more subject matter into courses. What we need to do is to build students' skills to handle and process the subject matter. Students need to be able to think more deeply and critically about the knowledge they are receiving.
General/Liberal education programs exist for students and while students typically enter the university with little or no knowledge of general education, they very much want what general education provides for them. Students at Shawnee State are no exception. Our exposure to students was limited; however, we found them to be concerned about program quality, open, expressive, but generally lacking awareness as to the purposes of the program. Clearly students perceived general education exclusively in terms of discrete subject matter.
- We strongly recommend that multiple initiatives be designed and implemented that would provide students with an understanding about the role general education should have in their university experience.
One effective way to introduce students to the purposes of general education is to develop a freshman seminar and we were pleasantly surprised that Shawnee State students eagerly accepted this idea.
- We recommend that students become involved in program governance as voting members of all general education program committees.
Students are a valuable resource in general education governance. They provide a perspective that is often distant in faculty, they are unencumbered by policy, therefore, a valuable source of ideas, and they provide an important way to communicate initiatives to their peers.
- We believe that the university should create a document highlighting the academic expectations of students and that the document be appropriately explained to all entering students.
The students we interviewed expressed concern about the absence of rigor in some general education courses, and, on occasion indicated that general education was less important than other academic programs. The university (general education is everyone's business) should seek ways to ensure that general education is perceivedas no different than other academic programs. One way to approach this difficult task is to communicate to students ways general education program goals are related to career opportunities.
We find a typical range of faculty commitment to the General Education Program that includes a good foundation of strong support. We admire Shawnee State's attempts to use such means as faculty seminars and annual retreats to help turn specialists into generalists. We also appreciate the unusual degree to which work in the GEP seems to be recognized (as both teaching and service) in the faculty rewards system, although we caution those involved in peer review to remember that student evaluations in General Education courses are consistently lower, nation-wide, than such evaluations in majors courses.
Shawnee State needs to communicate General Education policies to its faculty, and between its faculty and students, more clearly and more consistently.
We found confusion among the faculty regarding connections between the General Education Program and the Associate's Degree.
We also found a gap between student and faculty perceptions of the program. For example, students reported spending much less time in out-of-class preparation for General Education courses than faculty seem to expect. Several also voiced significant dislike for the "CivLit" component of the GEP, although many faculty think highly of this component. Students also reported that they did not often see how General Education courses connected to either program goals or life issues of importance to them--a problem faculty can address by clearly delineating such goals and issues in their syllabi and course presentations.
Perhaps surprisingly, students spoke quite favorably about the development of a Freshman Seminar that would introduce new students to the academic world and the GEP in particular. Attention should be given to the introduction of such a course.
Finally, faculty awareness of the scope and contents of the State of Ohio's Transfer Module seemed sketchy. Perhaps a CEU program, repeated so many faculty can take advantage of it, would be in order.
- Shawnee State needs to build a stronger "Espirit de Core" (pun intended) among its faculty.
The rapid growth of this University has forced the faculty to accomplish much without adequate resources. Also, the division of the institution into two schools--a College of Professional Studies and a College of Arts and Sciences--has contributed to an "us/them" mentality that needs to be addressed.
The General Education Advisory Committee (especially if it drops the word "Advisory" from its title--see below) can help to bridge this gap, since it contains membership from both Colleges. Another suggestion is to use available funds to occasionally attend each other's professional conferences--bring Professional Studies people to the Association for General and Liberal Studies annual conference, for example, and bring Arts and Sciences people to a professional conference in engineering or health professions.
Still another solution is to enhance faculty ownership of the GEP by actively encouraging proposals for general education courses from Professional Studies faculty.
- Shawnee State needs to improve consistency of rigor among various sections of the same course and among various courses in the same GEP category.
Though this is a national problem, and could also be considered a curricular issue, it is largely up to the faculty to address it. Students reported too much variability among courses and course sections. Conversations among the faculty about this matter are a good place to start.
5.General Education Governance/Resources
An essential element in ensuring success of general education is strong administrative support. Faculty support is equally important because faculty members determine program quality. At Shawnee State University we found evidence for strong administrative and faculty support. President Chapman has a thoughtful vision for general education, which he articulates superbly. Deans, chairpersons, the program coordinator, past coordinators and advisory council members all expressed concern for the program and support for the review process. When faculty and administrators voice concern they care about quality. We were especially impressed with the dedication of the program coordinator.
- The position of program coordinator should be strengthened.
To provide appropriate leadership and program advocacy the coordinator should have increased authority to a level above that of departmental chairperson. Such a change would be in keeping with national trends.
Implementing this change will probably necessitate a new title together with additional resources. A significant increase in the program budget, a secretary and appropriate equipment are all essential, as the position is responsible for a significant component of the university experience of every student. At present the coordinator is in the unfavorable position of negotiating for program advocacy.
We also suggest that the coordinator, in cooperation with the General Education Council, participate in the search process of all candidates for positions that will have responsibility for general education.
- We also believe that the strengthened program coordinator should report to the Provost.
At present the coordinator reports to the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences. This places both positions at a disadvantage administratively. The dean is forced to consider the needs of college departments and of general education, which may not always be equivalent. The coordinator in reporting to the dean of one college is placed in an unenviable position with respect to the needs of the other college.
- We believe that the word "Advisory" should be removed from the title General Education Advisory Council, and that the Council be responsible for the approval of all programmatic initiatives, with the Educational Policies and Curriculum Committee serving as an appeal body.
The implementation of other recommendations in this review process together with course review, program review, and assessment activities that will take place will result in a fairly high level of sophistication and understanding on the part of the council. Hence, this body should be responsible for approving programmatic matters. To ensure appropriate governance an appeal body may be necessary and the Educational Policies and Curriculum Committee is ideal for this task.
- We recommend that at least one student serve as a voting member of the General Education Council.
The present council representation is appropriate in terms of deliverers of the curriculum; however, the recipients are not represented. Many institutions have experienced positive results from student members including increased faculty awareness of changes in the student body. Further, the student representative(s) may be charged with relating information about the program to the student body.
- We believe that procedures should be developed for routine ongoing review of all courses and that a so-called sunset clause be implemented.
It is essential that program goals and objectives become an integral part of course components and teaching strategies of all general education courses. Periodic review will ensure that goals and objectives are indeed incorporated in course offerings. A "sunset clause" provides for removing courses that are no longer appropriate.