Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


General Education at Community Colleges

Posted on November 10, 2013 at 6:20 AM

Over the last few months I’ve visited a number of community colleges across the country, and I’m seeing some common themes emerge. While my visits are purportedly about assessment, the conversations invariably turn to learning outcomes and curriculum design. (And this doesn’t surprise me; I’ve been saying for years that, if your college is struggling with assessment, the cause is likely either unclear goals or curricula that aren’t designed to help students achieve those goals.) A lot of community college curricula are constrained by state requirements but, if you have some flexibility, here’s the advice I’ve found myself giving most frequently on community college gen ed curricula:

1. Limit the number of gen ed learning outcomes. Two examples: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board stipulates just six; the Community College of Baltimore County has just four. If you have a lot of learning outcomes, you have a much harder time designing a curriculum so that every student achieves each one of them, and you have a lot more work assessing them.

2. Keep your gen ed requirements simple and traditional: communication, math, social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, fine and performing arts. Not exciting, but these courses have the best chance of transferring and meeting gen ed requirements at four-year colleges.

3. Keep your gen ed course offerings limited and traditional: Introduction to Biology, Introduction to Psychology, U.S. Government, 20th Century American Literature. Again, these courses have the best chance of transferring and meeting gen ed requirements at four-year colleges. Limiting the number of offerings can lead to huge savings in faculty time in course planning, monitoring/review, and assessment. Traditional doesn’t mean boring or irrelevant, of course. You can focus a 20th century American literature course on works particularly likely to engage your students and meet their interests and needs.

4. Address each gen ed learning outcome in more than one core requirement. Some community colleges require that every gen ed course address critical thinking, for example, and some require quantitative skills to be addressed in gen ed social science courses as well as in math courses. This helps ensure that, no matter how long students enroll at your college or what they take, they’ll leave with stronger skills than when they arrived.

Categories: Gen ed/liberal arts, Curriculum & teaching