The traditional baccalaureate put general education and breadth in the lower division:
To this it added specialization in the major, in the upper division. Majoring in psychology? Your degree looks like this:
Biology? Then it’s this:
Here’s what a jounalist looks like:
The problem with this curriculum, like so much of what we do, is that it serves a dwindling share of our students. Fewer of them start at the beginning and continue straight through to the end, sequencing the learning into a coherent narrative. Instead they stop and start, move from place to place, or stop and never come back.
That means the curriculum needs to do something few stories manage: it has to make sense no matter where you stop. Any part of the postsecondary curriculum needs its own self-contained benefit.
This has become clear to me lately in a couple of ways.
1. SB 1440. For the past year faculty from the CSU and the state’s commmunity colleges have been designing transfer curriculum required by new legislation, the STAR Act. It calls for clear, simple, transferable lower division curriculum for the most popular majors, to include both GE and major preparation. That’s a lot of GE, 39 units, for a transfer associate degree with only 60 total. Almost all of the rest is supposed to be major preparation, to provide some depth to the great number of students who say they intend to transfer but never make it.
These two-year degrees are oddly shaped, intended as both the first half of a baccalaureate, and also terminal educational experiences of their own.
2. My meeting last week with the Irvine Foundation. We’re looking for money to support the GE reform project called “Give Students a Compass,” and working with a program officer at Irvine to identify common ground between their agenda and ours.
Irvine sees (and promotes) the value of liberal learning in real-world settings. At the secondary level the foundation calls this “Linked Learning,” connecting vocational training with college prep. At the postsecondary level — we think — it will look a lot like “high-impact practices,” the learning communities, internships, and community-based research that make GE engaging, and illuminate its relevance.
Except that, so far, “Give Students a Compass” has explored incorporating high-impact practices into GE for transfer. Irvine, like the recent transfer legislation, wants to protect students who don’t make it over the bridge from community colleges to universities.
They’ll support putting high impact practices into GE, but want it also to amount to something on its own: an associate degree, a certificate, a credential. Like Lumina, Irvine is looking to boost the nation’s degree production, and successful transfer undermines that effort by using two institutions to create a single diploma.
I worry. I worry that as the CSU figures out how to put high-impact practices like learning communities and multi-disciplinarity into the lower division, improving student success as we continue to accommodate mobility, the lower division itself is going away.
Is the answer a little breadth and a little depth in both halves of the baccalaureate? Probably.
That is, instead of psych degree that looks like this:
Maybe we want one that looks like this:
The model would have a few advantages. First, for the students at the community colleges, it wouldn’t cram 39 units of GE into the lower division, on the assumption that all the specialization naturally belongs later.
For the students at the university, work in the major could begin sooner. There’s a deep suspicion, hard to verify, that this would improve student engagement and persistence — and ultimately our graduation rates — since major study usually aligns with students’ interest, and explicitly connects with their goals after graduation.
Finally, the model that splits specialization and GE across both halves of the baccalaureate would encourage multidisciplinarity. Want to work for environmental advocacy groups? Mix science with policy across transfer, in a degree that looks like this: