Another California Traffic Jam

In many ways we’re well positioned in the year ahead to improve the way we deliver general education to students at the California Community Colleges and California State University.  We have a national AAC&U meeting in town in January, and over $100,000 in support (cash and in-kind) to send faculty teams there to re-imagine what we do.

Multiple foundations seem willing at least to talk with us on a range of reforms, including experiments with embedding more GE into real-world settings (on the Irvine Foundation’s “Linked Learning” model), shifting the articulation paradigm away from seat time and onto learning outcomes (on the Bologna Process “tuning” model supported by Lumina Foundation for Education), and on focusing student math proficiency on those skills that are most relevant (the Statways project, now underway from Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching).

Adding to my sense of optimism:  the leadership of the Academic Senate CSU is not just a willing passenger in these efforts, but driving the limo.  Last weekend I was on the phone for an hour with incoming GEAC chair John Tarjan, and had to follow up with an email so we could keep straight all the various causes for hope.

And yet in other ways this is a bad year to try moving anything forward with GE and transfer.

The state’s budget woes, of course, continue to sap our attention, resources, and morale.  But two new and urgent priorities have come up this summer, and threaten to grab some of the same minds.

1.  Early Start.  Today at a meeting of some provosts and CIOs we all had a sober moment of realization at the work ahead.  The CSU’s commitment — with the best of intentions — is to get all incoming students to at least begin work toward college readiness the summer before their freshman year.  Since most of our students require remediation in English, math, or both, this is a lot of summer school.  We need agreements in place with community colleges to meet the new demand, and these are the very same intersegmental relationships many of us would like to harness to other ends.

2.  SB 1440.  The new, all but certain legislation to come from this senate bill will create new structures of transfer and articulation around lower-division coursework in the major.  GE is left alone for us to improve as we wish, but guess what?  Whichever intersegmental faculty groups haven’t already been gobbled up by Early Start will be drafted into service for SB 1440.

How can we make progress toward a more engaging curriculum through this kind of traffic jam?

I don’t know.  But I think our ability to pursue any of the current opportunities for GE reform will depend, in part, on taking advantage of the interactions and work surrounding these new mandates.

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