The Charge

In February 1996, the chair and chair-elect of the University Faculty Senate appointed the Special Committee on General Education (SCGE). The charge was threefold: 

The Senate leaders noted that they were making no advance assumptions about the extent or nature of any changes that might be recommended. They asked the Committee to investigate and evaluate alternative approaches to general education, and to allow its findings to inform and shape the content of its report. The overall goal was to recommend a curriculum that would be a source of pride and identity for the entire Penn State community, with general education as an integral, provocative, and enlightening part of students' higher education.

Table of Contents...


The Committee worked for approximately 18 months to research and consider alternative strategies, leading to its final proposal. Consultation during the process was extensive. In preparing a "working document" that was released at about the half-way point in the process, the Committee held well-publicized open forums and informational sessions with the University Faculty Senate and other faculty and student groups to obtain input from a wide cross-section of the University community. Feedback on the working document was also extensive, and included discussions at various levels of the academic administration of the University, and many written and e-mail communications from a wide range of academic units, as well as many individual faculty, students and alumni. The Committee considered all this input carefully as it moved from the working document to the final report.

Especially useful was a forensic session with the Faculty Senate held about one year into the Committee's work. While that session showed considerable basic support for the directions the Committee was taking, it also was extremely helpful in pointing out the relative weaknesses of our approach in the minds of our faculty colleagues. For example, it was clear that our colleagues wanted a more explicit rationale to support the changes we would recommend, that they wanted more information about implementation, and that they did not generally see the need for a substantial reduction in the size of Penn State's general education curriculum. The Committee has attempted to address those issues in this document.

Table of Contents...

Assessing General Education at Penn State

The SCGE looked at the history of general education at Penn State, through a collection of Senate actions and various task force and commission reports (Penn State, 1991; Penn State, 1995; Senate Actions, 1996). The SCGE also examined information about previous Penn State assessment activities (University Faculty Senate, 1988; Penn State, 1993), enrollment and course-taking patterns (University Faculty Senate, 1994), alumni conversations (Dooris & Rambeau, 1995), an educational outcomes survey (Penn State, 1996), and a three-year FIPSE project (Jones, et al., 1996) based on Penn State transcripts and test scores.

The Committee consulted widely with University constituents. Most of its meetings were advertised and open. The committee invited experts, including academic advisers, faculty colleagues, and administrators and support staff, to participate in special sessions on particular topics. Those special meetings (often supplemented with readings) covered differences among college perspectives and needs, fitness and health (Ad Hoc Committee on General Education, June 1996), international and diversity issues (Bickson, 1996; Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, 1996; Goodstein, 1994), computer and information literacy, alcohol and drug awareness (University Faculty Senate, 1996), and writing.

In order to compose a picture of how the general education curriculum is currently being accessed and delivered, enrollment and instructional data were investigated. Although it would not be appropriate to replicate here all of the information that the Committee reviewed, a few highlights are probably useful.

Enrollment patterns in courses that meet general education requirements are fairly stable year to year. A relative handful of different courses among literally hundreds of possibilities are dominant student choices. In round numbers, about ten courses account for two-thirds to three-quarters of enrollments in each of the four primary distribution areas (natural sciences, arts, humanities, and social and behavioral science). Familiar Penn State stand-bys -- such as Music 5, Comm 150, Theatre 100, Psych 2, Econ 2 and 4, Soc 1, the Bi Sci series, Astronomy 1 -- nearly comprise, in a practical sense, a "Penn State core." The de facto core probably developed due more to peripheral considerations (such as course availability or perceived difficulty) than to an especially sound educational rationale. On the one hand, the Committee sees flexibility and freedom of choice as extremely valuable elements of the Penn State curriculum. On the other hand, we are concerned that students predominantly make choices from such a small subset of the broad spectrum of approved courses.

The data also show that general education sections are taught disproportionately in large sections. For example, 55 percent of general education student credit hours are earned in classes of over 100 students; the comparable number is 22 percent for non-general education courses. In terms of who is teaching these courses, general education only suffers very slightly by comparison. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of general education student credit hours are taught by full-time faculty (including instructors); this compares to 68 percent for total undergraduate student credit hours. Some other issues that are sometimes a basis for criticizing general education are probably exaggerated, as well. Course availability does not appear to be a huge problem, based both on the impressions of the appropriate associate deans, and on college records that suggest very small numbers (about 20 to 40 per college) of general education petitions and/or waivers granted. There are some instances where students cannot schedule desired and/or required courses as early as they would like (ESACT), or should (Engl 202), but they can eventually take advantage of the preferential access assigned to students with higher semester classification to enroll in these classes. Likewise, the data suggest that mis-advising (leading to "wasted" courses) is not widespread. Also, colleges appear to be very open to students' substitution requests; not all colleges keep records on this, but data from those that do indicate substitutions (per college) numbering in the hundreds per year. Although there was concern about the burden this represents in the deans' offices where decisions on these petitions are made, it suggests, on the positive side, that there is a fair amount of flexibility in the system to accommodate students' unique interests and needs.

The perspectives of stakeholders who are not faculty are interesting and important. Focus groups with students and alumni, and surveys of recent (two-year-out and five-year-out) baccalaureate graduates show very clearly high levels of pride, loyalty, and satisfaction overall. Nonetheless, the evidence from these assessment instruments, as well as considerable anecdotal information, points to areas of concern. Alumni note the importance of general education in developing competencies crucial to professional and career success -- such as communication and people skills -- and a foundation of knowledge from which they view and understand the world and their own lives. Yet students (especially) perceive their general education experience as disconnected from their studies in the major and sense a lack of coherency among their exposure to skills, broader knowledge areas and the specific disciplines in which they pursue their majors. They often identify general education courses as "easy;" and when asked to elaborate, they explain that the classes weren't challenging, or allowed them to be passive or intellectually uncommitted or anonymous. Ironically, these descriptors are just as frequently given as reasons why they liked particular courses as they are for courses not measuring up to expectations.

The impressions and concerns the Committee heard regarding the delivery of general education courses were supported by data collected from recent, comprehensive surveys of students and teachers at the University Park campus (Willits, Moore and Enerson, 1997), focusing on the quality of learning and teaching in general. Students and teachers exhibited considerable agreement on the importance of many ingredients of quality teaching. Although students generally felt that their instructors were knowledgeable, well prepared and enthusiastic, fewer than half of the student respondents felt their instructors made the course material interesting and stimulated their intellectual curiosity, or demonstrated a genuine interest in the students. While students' ratings of courses were higher for smaller classes, the correlation to class size was not a strong one. Teachers, on the other hand, cited research responsibilities and inadequate student preparation high on their list of factors that interfere with the quality teaching (with about two-thirds of respondents rating these as causing "some" or "a great deal" of interference) . Large class sizes and other teaching responsibilities were rated by less than half (42.3 and 38.1 percent, respectively) as having an adverse impact on quality. The survey also turned up some interesting data on class attendance as related to course characteristics. Respondents' reporting of their absenteeism were positively related to class size, with rates almost three times higher for classes of over 200 (19.6 percent) as for classes of less than 30 (6.8 percent). The absenteeism for lecture classes (15.1 percent) was likewise almost three times higher than for discussion classes (5.8 percent). Although students cited reasons unrelated to quality of instruction for some of their absenteeism, the most frequent reason was "that there was little learning incentive to attend the class -- it was too easy and/or too boring, or the material could better be obtained elsewhere." The most striking finding of the Willits report was this: When asked to evaluate teaching quality, one factor -- not the grade earned, not class size, not difficulty, not instructor enthusiasm -- stood out. "By far the most powerful predictor of the students' overall evaluation was the amount they felt they had learned" (Willits, et al., 1997, p.16).

The SCGE concludes that:

General Education Models & Best Practices

With the goal of a learned discussion in mind, the SCGE used the literature to develop a broad understanding of relevant historical, philosophical, cultural, and social dimensions, and to inform the members about more specific practices as employed by other institutions or as analyzed by experts (Damrosch, 1995; Light, 1990; Light, 1992; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Rosovsky, 1990; Weingartner, 1993). In addition, the Committee examined two benchmarking studies involving Big Ten universities (Penn State, 1994; Alexander, 1995) and a 1995 national study funded by the Exxon Foundation and the Ford Foundation (Society for Values in Higher Education, 1995). Those studies described curricular patterns, trends, and structures at "best practice" colleges and universities. Committee members specifically investigated, in some detail, universities (including James Madison, Harvard, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Columbia University) that various sources suggested as models for general education worth close examination.

Based upon its investigations, the SCGE concludes that:

Vision, Mission & Goals: An Emphasis on Learning

Put simply, it is not the particular model for the curriculum that is used, so much as how well that curriculum is executed -- so long as the model "fits" the particular institution -- that defines a successful program in the eyes of all the stakeholders. The Committee's Working Document was somewhat criticized -- understandably -- for its lack of specificity in regard to the objectives underlying the Committee's tentative recommendations. It is not, however, an accurate conclusion that the Committee simply skipped the important step of considering and articulating a vision for general education at Penn State. In fact, there was consensus within the Committee and among the many constituents we consulted on what the key objectives and outcomes should be. This document will return to discuss vision and goals in more detail but, in essence, the basic goal is to promote a program that emphasizes learning and is an integral, enlightening and continuously evolving part of the Penn State education. In all the long discussions and many meetings the Committee has had during this difficult assignment, the toughest challenge that has been posed is that of defining the changes (if any) necessary to move Penn State closer to that objective.

It was clear from the literature and the responses we received to our working document that there is real polarity of opinion on this. The debate boiled down, more than anything, to an issue of strategy; in other words, how best to deliver the curriculum and what models for teaching and learning will best accomplish those goals. On the one hand, it is argued that -- in a world where the knowledge base is expanding rapidly and has an ever decreasing half-life -- we need to develop in students the key competencies and proficiencies that will allow them to discover and synthesize knowledge, both collaboratively and on their own initiative, using all the new and powerful tools that they now have, quite literally, right at their fingertips. Others argue that the knowledge base which all students need should be transmitted directly and presented to them coherently in order that they will be well prepared and informed -- ready to think critically, deal with ambiguity, and able to solve complex problems. Proponents of the latter approach towards general education claim that learning method, without sufficient attention to content, may diminish, weaken or dilute the academic experience; proponents of the former approach argue that an attempt to simply inoculate students with information will not and cannot produce real scholars or prepare students to be life-long learners.

There is no perfect compromise between these two views that will lead to any real consensus in the democratic arena in which curricular decisions are made. Attempts to reconcile them run the risk of highly politicized but ultimately bland or toothless tinkering that does little to challenge or improve the status quo. Some correspondents did, in fact, argue that either there was little to be "fixed" or that the risks of effecting any change could well outweigh the potential benefits. The Committee did, however, conclude that specific strategies could be identified that would embrace both the learner-centered and transmission models and compromise neither, help to address the shortcomings identified through our consultation with stakeholders, and both preserve and build on the strengths of the current general education curriculum. Inevitably, we must confront the paradox that, even when we strive for a more learner-centered approach, we need to speak in terms of what we as teachers and educators can do to achieve it.

The subsequent sections of this report identify the vision and mission for general education adopted by the Committee, the goals and objectives for the student learning consistent with that vision, the proposed strategies (curricular elements) to achieve those goals, and a plan (specific, actionable recommendations1, along with suggested guidelines, outlines for policies and procedures and a timeline) for implementing the changes. The Committee also recognized that the proposed changes must be compatible with the multi-campus and college structure of Penn State and reflect the broad, land-grant mission of the university; offer flexibility -- within reasonable bounds -- with which faculty and students can approach their respective roles and responsibilities of teaching and learning; and be realistic in terms of available resources and other external or internal constraints. Where possible, we have tried to identify appropriate means and incentives, opportunities for professional development and any tradeoffs or costs of the necessary infrastructure and human resources to carry out the recommendations. Finally, we propose a mechanism for formative assessment, in which the evaluative processes and measures are an integral part of the curriculum, fostering continuous feedback and improvement.


Our vision for general education at Penn State is drawn essentially from the University Faculty Senate's charge to the Committee:


The latest edition of the curriculum booklet on general education describes the role of the curriculum as follows:

The Committee endorses this role as the stated mission for general education, adding to it (as indicated in one of the Committee's recommendations) a commitment to dynamic assessment for the purposes of continuous improvement in the quality of learning.


The definition of general education, adopted 1985 and presented on page 46 of the 1997-97 Baccalaureate Degree Programs Bulletin, provides a comprehensive listing of the extant goals of the program. The recommendations for relatively minor, but important, changes to these goals statements are consistent with the Committee's interest in updating and refining the complement of skills and competencies college graduates should have -- reflecting the expanded use of computers for information retrieval and greater emphasis on teamwork, interpersonal skills, wellness and cultural awareness. In order to highlight the modifications made to the existing version, additions are capitalized and deletions are struck through.

Objectives and Strategy: A Framework for Learning

As noted very recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Robert M. Diamond, August 1, 1997), despite the broad agreement and consistency on what students should learn, "students, parents, employers, legislators, and many of us within academe believe that far too many students still graduate without mastering the core skills."

Curriculum, courses, credits, enrollments and teaching are important because they contribute to learning. The Committee encountered a strong lobby for maintaining certain numbers of credits and courses in each of the general education area requirements as a measure of how much we expect our students to learn or know in those areas. However, institutional factors can influence attempts to protect credits and enrollments while, at the same time, other priorities divert attention and resources away from teaching and course offerings in general education. And, while there also was some sentiment for reducing the "size" of the general education curriculum (i.e., the total number of credits required), there was very little support for significant overhaul of a system that, in many ways, is viewed as serving our students well. As will be seen in the following sections of this report, only modest changes are recommended in the overall course and credit requirements. Rather, the objectives underlying the proposed recommendations deal predominantly with the execution of the curriculum -- how it is delivered and the quality of learning that results.

It was clear from the Committee's many conversations with faculty and students, in particular, that it is necessary but not sufficient to simply provide access (opportunity for a certain amount of instruction) to develop key competencies or knowledge. Just as important to the depth of learning are the attention given to active engagement, encouragement, clear expectations and responsibility, reinforcement, collaboration, creativity and flexibility in both developing the learning processes and achieving the desired learning outcomes. In many ways, the extended dialogue among students and faculty and within departments and colleges, inspired by the Committee's existence and outreach, has already focused the spotlight on what Penn State is doing and stimulated some re-examination and discussion of what can be done better.

The emphasis of Committee has therefore been to try, persistently and exhaustively, to bring the conversation back to the quality of learning -- to frame general education in terms of the achievement of measurable educational objectives and processes (such as better and more writing, engagement of students in their own learning, active and collaborative learning, contemporary information gathering, analysis and critical thinking). Having identified key objectives, the Committee then evaluated alternative strategies to address them, and developed a plan based on its assessment of best practices, applicable constraints and ambitious, but potentially realizable, allocation of faculty time and other resources.

OBJECTIVE I. Foster an understanding and appreciation of the importance of general education within the larger context of a student's undergraduate educational experience.

Recommendation #1: Establish a first-year seminar experience for incoming, first-year students, provided by each of the colleges and campuses as part of the general education program.  

Rationale: Through its examination of enrollment patterns, teaching assignments and student/faculty perceptions, the Committee concludes that we need to do a better job of engaging our incoming students, quickly and deliberately, in the educational enterprise. The course schedule for a typical, first year student will include English composition, an entry level course in mathematics, and selections from the list of approved courses meeting the distribution requirement. Though taught mostly in small classes, the writing and quantification courses are frequently assigned to teaching assistants and other inexperienced instructors. The "survey" courses in the knowledge areas (natural sciences, arts, humanities and social and behavioral sciences) are taught primarily in a large class, lecture format. Thus, entering students do not have much access to either the "regular" faculty or discussion-oriented classes in their intended disciplines of study.

Further, the Committee found that "best practice" programs consistently endeavor to involve lower division students in small, discussion-centered classes and seminars taught by regular faculty. Although these types of classes were more common among smaller institutions, the University of North Carolina and CIC schools such as Northwestern have successful programs for first-year students. A number of colleges at Penn State have already developed and implemented model seminars. Admittedly, there is not much data available yet as to the measurable impact and outcomes of first-year seminar programs. However, the Committee is persuaded that there is a compelling need for, and high potential benefits of, connecting students early with faculty and topics in their prospective major disciplines.

Guidelines for Implementation: The first-year seminar experience is intended to be academic in content and format and have the following objectives:

• To introduce students to university study

• To introduce students to Penn State as an academic community, including fields of study and areas of interest available to students

• To acquaint students with the learning tools and resources available at Penn State

• To provide an opportunity for students to develop relationships with full-time faculty and other students in an academic area of interest to them

• To introduce students to their responsibilities as part of the University community

Each college and campus would provide first-year seminars of one to three credits for incoming first-year students. Seminars may be offered by individual departments, divisions and programs, and/or at the college or campus level. Baccalaureate students (with the exception of those designated as entering with advanced standing) would be required to complete a seminar course within their first three semesters of enrollment in the University. (Students in associate degree programs would not be required to take a seminar, but could register for them on a space-available basis.) In general, students would meet the first-year seminar requirement by taking a seminar in the College in which they are enrolled during their freshman year (or, for the case of DUS students, in the general field in which they intend to concentrate their studies) and would be considered to have met the requirement even if they subsequently change colleges or intended majors (i.e., all seminars are intended to be fully portable). The seminars would be taught by full-time, regular faculty and limited to twenty students per class. A variety of different seminars are currently being offered in the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Development and Liberal Arts that meet the spirit of these guidelines and can serve as models. Some concentrate on skills development and orientation while others emphasize topical content, but all the approaches lend themselves to weaving the above goals into the seminar experience.

Specific seminar courses may contribute to the fulfillment of requirements in the general education skill areas if approved for such designation by the Faculty Senate, or may apply towards other degree requirements. However, such designation shall not compromise the concept of portability; in other words, from an operational standpoint, students who change colleges or majors after satisfying the first-year seminar requirement shall not have to complete more credits in order to graduate in any given major owing to having taken a seminar in a different college.

The Committee anticipates that the development of seminars sufficient to meet the needs of all students could take on the order of two years. Students entering the University as of Summer 1999 would therefore be the first cohort subject to the new requirement.

Resource Issues: The Committee recognizes that implementing the seminar program for all students will involve a significant investment in faculty time and other resources. In the College of Engineering, for example, approximately 1000 new students enroll each year at University Park in the common-major (ENGR) designation and approximately 200 more enroll in DUS with the intention of engaging in engineering study, which would mean that a minimum of 50 seminar sections would have to be offered during the summer, fall and spring semesters. With about 260 tenure-track faculty members, and assuming that the teaching of seminars would be evenly spread across the departments and degree programs, each faculty member would come up in the teaching rotation once every four to five years. Obviously, it will be important for majors with large enrollments that related fields help out by offering attractive, interdisciplinary seminars. At locations other than University Park, a different strategy might be used to provide seminars for the approximately 1000 new engineering students enrolled in the first year, without adding significantly to the instructional workload. The required freshman design experience, ED&G 100, is required for students intending on entering most majors and is generally taught in small classes. Its content is flexible enough that this course could be readily adapted to comply with the intent and criteria outlined above for the first-year seminar requirement.

In order to convey some topics most efficiently, while at the same time relieving the instructor from preparing materials or activities for every class meeting, colleges might put together modules that could be incorporated into many of the seminars offered in a given semester, developed and presented by resident or external experts. As long as they did not substitute for the regular presence of the faculty member, professional staff, graduate assistants and undergraduate teaching interns might be involved, as well, in leading discussions, laboratories and other activities. It is anticipated that some resources would be made available centrally to fund workshops on seminar development and teaching, help underwrite the cost of modules developed and/or taught by support units, and to implement selected seminar programs for the first time (development of initial offerings).

Classroom space is one concern that colleagues raised in their feedback to the Committee. At University Park, in Fall 1997, there were over 150 Monday-Wednesday-Friday open scheduling sequences available in general-purpose classrooms of the proper size. These rooms could not accommodate all incoming freshmen in additional three-meetings-per-week courses in the Fall semester. However, that is not the approach suggested here. There is adequate capacity at University Park to accommodate the first-time freshmen enrollments of 4,800 at University Park, if those students are spread over the fall and spring semesters. Classrooms could handle about two-thirds of University Park freshmen in the Fall alone -- and again, this is under the demanding assumptions that these are three-credit courses, that they are add-ons versus already existing courses, and that they use only general-purpose classrooms (versus college-controlled classrooms). The bad news is that most of the available slots are available in what are traditionally the less-desirable early morning and late afternoon time slots.

What are the space issues at non-University Park locations, which enroll about 6,900 first-time freshmen in total? It is difficult to generalize about space issues across these campuses. The sense of the Committee is that there will be problems at some campuses but not at others. Encouraging students to take seminars during the summer session would mitigate the problem system-wide. Also, at all locations, other creative approaches, such as offering the seminars in residence halls -- on the students' own turf, so to speak -- or in other spaces not normally scheduled as classrooms, would alleviate space problems and could actually offer pedagogical advantages.

The faculty-resource costing implications are more difficult to specify. Because the recommendation is not for an increase in credits, and because several colleges already offer the seminars, the recommendation does not imply anything approaching the additional marginal costs that would be expected based on average instructional costs. Nonetheless, a useful data point relates to the average cost of delivering a 000-199 level course. That cost, per student credit hour University-wide, is about $75. This would multiply to a total cost of $900,000 for a pure add-on, one-credit first-year seminar for all incoming freshmen. The Committee notes this strictly as an upper-limit indicator, not as a cost estimate, for the reasons discussed above.

Table of Contents...

OBJECTIVE II. Recognize the differences in incoming students' talents and needs in terms of skills development and enhance the emphasis given to appropriate mastery of those competencies and to their application in subsequent learning.

Recommendation #2: Improve the diagnostic instruments and measures used in the placement of entering students in skills courses and reduce the incidence of students taking courses with content that they have already mastered by encouraging placing out or exemption when proficiency has been attained and/or demonstrated.

 Rationale: There are currently a number of methods by which students obtain credit for courses designated as meeting the general education requirements, including credit awarded on the basis of performance on advanced placement tests, transfer of credits for courses earned at other institutions, credit by examination and credit by portfolio assessment. The use of these existing mechanisms should be encouraged and expanded to avoid the incidence of students taking coursework that may, for those who have already developed sufficient mastery, be redundant, unchallenging or wasteful of their time, money and effort. Further, the placement testing conducted during FTCAP is designed primarily as an aid for counseling students as to which level (of rigor) to begin their studies in the skill areas and technical disciplines (such as chemistry). Even if a student were to demonstrate a proficiency level exceeding that of a course meeting general education requirements, it would not reduce the number of credits the student would have to take to satisfy that skill area. (If a student performs very well on these tests, he or she will be advised to seek advanced placement credit through further testing.)

In contrast to the status quo, just described, a more diagnostic approach to the assessment of proficiency would not only aid in insuring that students develop the basic skills as needed for later courses, but would permit students who have mastered key skills to move ahead with their educational programs, including their application in subsequent courses. Penn State and higher education are at a change juncture with regard to the business of testing. There is increasing recognition by educators at all levels that more sophisticated, formative, powerful assessments, that go beyond the traditional, static, placement-oriented tests, are both desirable and practical. It is clear (Gipps 1994) that a shift is under way from psychometrics, testing and examination, toward a broader model of both assessment forms and purposes. There is a move toward acceptance of a wider variety of measurement techniques that include but go beyond standardized tests, such as performance-based assessment, oral assessment, observable situation problem-solving, portfolios of accomplishments, and computerized adaptive testing. Likewise, student assessment is now also being asked to serve a broader range of purposes; it still must serve the objectives of placement, selection, and certification, but it increasingly is used, for example, to contribute to the development of students, teachers, and the curricula. These shifts are related to thinking about teaching and learning, with greater emphases upon higher order problem solving skills, active learning, and the like. Colleges and universities continue to need practical, measured, analytical, reliable, and valid assessments -- while, increasingly, they attempt to adopt techniques that do not stand outside of teaching and learning.

Consistent with these higher education shifts, and with the other recommendations in this report, this committee believes that Penn State must also update its ability to accommodate more effective and efficient connections between teaching and learning, and educational assessment. The University is taking important steps in this direction already. For example, the existing FTCAP test will be available in Fall 1997 for the first time over the Web to any student who chooses to, and is able to, access it in that manner. University Testing Services is exploring the use of computer adaptive testing, item banking, performance-based assessment, and real-time feedback. UTS has already found, on a prototype basis with a small number of courses, that these approaches are feasible, efficient, and highly regarded by the faculty who have used them.

Credit-by-examination has long been an option for students, but again it is not widely used (with only 231 occurrences in Fall 1996 and 222 in Spring 1997. We believe that at least one reason credit-by-exam is not more widely used is the fee structure. The fee of $30 per credit (with funds being shared among the department, Registrar, and Bursar) is simply insufficient compensation, in relation to the effort involved, to adequately promote this potentially useful mechanism.

A policy has recently been prepared to guide the practice, approved recently by the Faculty Senate, of awarding credit by portfolio assessment. The details of the fee structure have yet to be worked out.

Advanced placement tests are yet another example of a diagnostic instrument that is already available. For Penn State's Summer and Fall 1996 baccalaureate admissions, 1,085 of 11,651 incoming students at all locations received some AP credit. About two-thirds of the 1,085 students (699, or 64 percent) received nine or fewer AP credits. The courses most often credited for advanced placement were Math 140 (397 occurrences), English literature (273 occurrences), History 20 and 21 (269 occurrences each), Chem 12 (155 occurrences) and Chem 13 (153 occurrences). Unfortunately, we don't have a very good basis on which to judge whether this proportion of our entering students (about 10 percent) who do "place out" of some entry level, college course work is an accurate reflection of the proportion who could. More attention to rigorous, diagnostic evaluation of all incoming students' skills could significantly advance our understanding not only of their different proficiency levels on entry, but of what we need to help them accomplish by the time they graduate.

Guidelines for Implementation: The issues of computerized adaptive testing, FTCAP, advanced placement, credit by exam, portfolio assessment, and the like should continue to be examined by the appropriate groups, including the Division of Undergraduate Studies, University Testing Services, Admissions, and the Senate Committee on Admissions, Records, Scheduling, and Student Aid. We commend the faculty, staff, and administrators already involved in significant steps, and encourage continuing efforts to expand the use of modern, high quality, and convenient measurement approaches at Penn State. We emphasize that fee structures, where appropriate, should be adequate to realistically support the costs and added faculty workload (and therefore promote the use of) mechanisms such as credit by exam and portfolio assessment.

Resource Issues: Consideration should be given to the cost and possible fee structure for implementing a more diagnostic placement mechanism. Currently, a fee is assessed for credit by examination and credit by portfolio assessment, but not for the processing of advanced placement credit or for the basic placement testing conducted during FTCAP.

Table of Contents...

Recommendation #3: Identify the specific competencies and levels of proficiencies expected for, and constituting college-level mastery in, each of the skill areas (writing, speaking and quantification); identify the subsets of these competencies that are relevant for students intending on entering majors within each of the broad disciplinary categories (natural or applied sciences, business, social sciences, humanities, arts, communications, etc.); where needed, revise or develop new courses that will emphasize and help achieve these learning outcomes.

Rationale: Concern over the relevancy of general education was pervasive in both the Committee's discussions with the University community and in the literature. Further, accrediting agencies, legislatures, and even boards of trustees or regents have called for -- and precipitated -- more attention to defining measurable outcomes, stemming directly from institutional and program objectives. Increasingly, our course syllabi are explicit in conveying course goals and expectations for the students. Yet we have been less successful in defining such outcomes for the general education curriculum or its component parts. We too often specify only what students should know, not what they will be able to do. It is not surprising that administrators, faculty and students often profess confusion about what we are trying to accomplish with general education, particularly in the skills areas. Faculty comment that we scale down our expectations for mastery of college-level subjects (dumbing down the mathematics curriculum, for instance, by offering Mickey Mouse renditions of calculus, is a popular way of putting it) for students in majors for which certain skills or knowledge may be tangential, or that the instruction in general education is not presented in a way that is relevant to students pursuing particular career paths. Typical of students' impressions, a columnist reflects in a recent edition of the Collegian that the first year courses sound "like the schedule of any normal high school kid," asks "What do gym and history have to do with engineering?" and concludes that aside from the 45 credits in the major, the curriculum is "either general classes that have nothing to do with advertising, or communications classes that are only marginally relevant to my future career." This common refrain among students (the columnist was a senior majoring in advertising) is evidence that there is a disconnect between the objectives and the product; what we intend to deliver and the perception of what we are delivering. Whether these impressions are well-founded or not (and we hope not) they are pervasive among our customers. Academic advisers hear them from their advisees, and faculty in the departments on the delivery side of general education hear them from their colleagues in the client colleges and units. The message is loud enough to warrant listening to and attempting to close the gap between intention and perception, so that students will take the general education experience more seriously and derive greater benefit from it. (It is worth noting that our alumni -- whom these same students eventually join -- do not similarly discount the importance of general education.) The above recommendation cuts right to the heart of the mission statement articulated earlier in this report: the development of skills and a broad knowledge base as a key ingredient to successful, satisfying lives.

Guidelines for Implementation: Two action items are proposed to address the above issues.

In fact, some collaboration in designing such curricula already happens, particularly where accreditation criteria in the professional disciplines motivate it. Examples are the freshman math coordinators' consultation with engineering and the sciences on the contents and desired outcomes in the calculus series and similar dialogue between the physics faculty and their customers. Guidance on the mechanisms through which the collaboration to define appropriate outcomes is provided in the section that follows on assessment. Reinforcement of the connection between these outcomes (as well as the curriculum designed to achieve them) and study in the majors can be accomplished, in part, through the first-year seminars described above. The authority for course approvals would continue to reside with an appropriate subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs.

Resource Issues: This recommendation does not entail major, new, direct resource commitments. Some faculty release time to develop new course sequences may be appropriate.

Table of Contents...

Recommendation #4: Integrate key competencies for active learning (writing, speaking, quantitative reasoning, information retrieval and computer literacy, problem solving and critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork, intercultural and international competence), as appropriate, in all general education courses in the domain-knowledge areas (health sciences, sciences, arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences).

Rationale: In order to bridge between the learning of skills and the application of those skills to learn, it is important to have students utilize and sharpen their competencies in the knowledge domain component of the curriculum. The above recommendation is predicated on the accepted notions that (1) proficiency is reinforced by repetition and practice, and (2) understanding of content, critical thinking and problem solving in the knowledge domains can be improved by active involvement of students -- through writing, speaking and other forms of self-expression, through their work in teams, through comparisons with their own and other cultural orientations and environments, through quantitative and statistical analysis and interpretation, and through their own discovery and retrieval of pertinent information. By prescribing a handful of key competencies for integration into the domain knowledge courses, the SCGE hopes to encourage the incorporation of a more active engagement of students in their own learning, both in and out of the classroom. The Committee is aware that an obvious way to promote a more active learning environment is by reducing the class size. Large classes not only discourage discussion and student- or group-centered activities, but the evaluation of writing assignments and non-objective forms of evaluation become difficult and time-consuming. The Committee is hopeful that the recommendation will exert some downward pressure on class sizes, and anticipates that some new and reallocated resources will need to be provided. However, since it is not within our means to deliver all of general education in small classes, we should take advantage of the many good mechanisms for introducing active learning into large classes as well. The Committee intends through this recommendation to raise the expectations and challenge the status quo for what currently transpires in many classrooms, large and small.

Guidelines for Implementation: The emphasis on integration, application and active/ collaborative learning is focused on the following competencies:

It is proposed that all courses approved for the various knowledge domains (health science, sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences) incorporate as many, but at least three, of the above active learning elements, as appropriate. Such integration could occur through a combination of in-class activities and out-of-class assignments. The University Learning Resource Center, the Libraries, the Center for Academic Computing and the new Center for Excellence in Writing available to both undergraduates and instructors can offer valuable support for out-of-class learning and assistance through tutoring and training in media-based and computer resources. Peer evaluations of assignments and of participation in class or on teams should be encouraged as part of the learning (and grading) processes. Course proposals submitted for approval by the Faculty Senate, and course syllabi distributed to students, should be explicit in describing the ways the above elements are incorporated into the course. The appropriate subcommittees of the Faculty Senate would be responsible for developing relevant guidelines and for evaluating course proposals. Courses that are currently approved for GN, GA, GH or GS designation would be given sufficient time and opportunity (see below) to incorporate the new elements into what is now being done and to document for the Senate subcommittee how the above requirement is being met.

Resource Issues: This recommendation does not entail substantial new, permanent funding. However, if taken seriously, it does imply that the University must do some transitional ramping up, as faculty more aggressively incorporate elements such as communication, critical thinking and collaboration into their general education courses.

It seems plausible to this Committee that some external support could be found to catalyze such a significant and important development. Funding would, subsequently, be folded in to Penn State's ongoing processes of instructional assessment, improvement, and delivery. Perhaps the most desirable and practical approach would use a blend of foundation and matching funds. In any case, the total cost for the dual initiative outlined below would be approximately $100,000 per year. As noted, we believe that this funding should definitely be temporary, with a four- to five-year sunset provision.

How significant could the impact of this fund be? About 160 of the largest and most frequently taken courses account for about three-quarters of general education enrollments. A five-year total expenditure of $500,000 could direct about $1,500 specifically to each of those 160 courses, at an annual cost of about $50,000. The $500,000 could simultaneously provide about $50,000 per year to enhance other existing individual courses, to develop new courses, to encourage faculty to create new course clusters, and to enable other departmental, program, and inter-disciplinary initiatives. In short, support of this magnitude is sensible in terms of the potential impact on Penn State's curricula and students.

We recommend allocating the funds in two ways: one targeted to individual faculty members, and another targeted to departments and/or programs.

The first suggestion is that the University implement a general education course enhancement program targeted to individual faculty and individual courses. One-semester awards of about $1,000 to $1,500 could assist faculty (for example, by purchasing instructional materials, buying or building an evaluation component, compensating student assistants for their help in putting together courseware and/or supporting attendance at conferences) in either converting an existing course, or developing a new general education course, to meet the criteria in Recommendation #4. The fund should also support proposals for greater curricular collaboration, as described in Recommendation #5, below.

The second suggestion is for departmental- or program-targeted grants. These would encourage faculty to approach the issue in terms of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary groupings, sequences, and clusters of courses. Funding could, for example, enable faculty to:

Department and program awards would be in the vicinity of $5,000 to $10,000. Especially at the department or program level, an appropriate use of some of this fund would be to support faculty workshops. Such workshops could help groups of faculty to climb the learning curve necessary, for instance, to:

The proposal and review process should be guided centrally -- perhaps by the Office of Undergraduate Education, or the Schreyer Institute. In any case, we suggest a very basic process, with proposals limited to about two pages, and with a small review panel and quick responses. Preference should be given to proposals that address large classes and courses that are offered solely, or mostly, for general education -- as opposed to courses that are technically general education courses but in practice mostly serve the needs of particular majors. The review process would also look for evidence that the proposed project would contribute to the development of faculty skills and curricular change in a planned manner. Emphasis should be on how the initiative is likely to strategically impact the curriculum consistent with the objectives described in Recommendation #4 and, probably to a lesser extent, in Recommendation #5

Table of Contents...

OBJECTIVE III: Encourage a curricular approval process that is more flexible and less bureaucratic, offers opportunity for interpretation and experimentation, stimulates integration and collaboration and preserves portability of courses and mobility among the disciplines.

Recommendation #5: Develop policies, procedures and guidelines for the general education curriculum and its attendant requirements that will stimulate creative, collaborative approaches, both in terms of curriculum development and delivery and in the ways students may meet the spirit of the requirements.

Rationale: This recommendation confronts the often controversial issue of how much flexibility to allow -- and inevitably raises the question of ownership of the curriculum. On the one hand, clear guidelines are needed to insure portability, so that students' mobility among the colleges, campuses and majors in the large, geographically dispersed institution -- that is Penn State -- is not compromised. Every effort should be made to avoid disadvantaging students (i.e., causing them to have to take extra courses to complete the degree requirements if they should change majors or campus location) caused by incompatibilities in courses or requirements. Appropriate constraints are needed, as well, to insure that consistent academic standards and rigor are applied and maintained. The Committee feels strongly that this undergirds all graduates' sense of having shared an experience in general education which, along with their studies in their respective disciplines, is the source of identity and pride in their Penn State education. At the same time, however, the boundary conditions should not be so narrow and rigid as to preclude innovative and novel approaches in teaching and learning. It is not desirable that requirements become so compartmentalized that they are thought of primarily in terms of courses or credits on a checklist. And, while it is important to have a reasonably simple and understandable process for tracking student's progress in satisfying the requirements, especially given the complex "flow" of students within the Penn State system, it is desirable to recognize a broad range of valid ways in which students might satisfy the spirit of general education requirements. Too often, the Committee heard concerns from faculty that they wanted to develop new courses or do something different, but the ideas would never survive (or it was too difficult to negotiate) the approval process. Administrators voiced concern over the number of petitions or exceptions they had to handle from students who had good and legitimate reasons for doing things differently from the standard way. Students commented more frequently on the restrictive nature of the requirements, rather than the opportunities open to them. Thus, policies, procedures and guidelines should be developed or rephrased, as needed and appropriate, to emphasize what students and faculty can do in regard to general education, rather than what they can't do. The great array of undergraduate opportunities at Penn State is one of our institutional strengths. It is one that we should capitalize and build upon.

Guidelines for Implementation: The Committee envisions the policy implications of this recommendation as being addressed primarily through the appropriate committees of the Faculty Senate, with participation on implementation, as necessary, by the University Registrar, academic advising services in the Colleges, the Scheduling Office and other academic support services. Some key issues that need review and clarification include:

A proactive stance needs to be taken that surpasses the conventional, more limited role of entertaining proposals or requests and granting, or not granting, approval. Clear guidelines (for course development and instruction), good information (for example, on suggested course clusters and how best to schedule them) and wide dissemination of examples of successful approaches (for instance, the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP)) are all needed to promote the responsible exercise of greater latitude in the options for curriculum delivery (course offerings) and access (course taking and other learning patterns). The new, web-based Comprehensive Academic Advising and Information System (CAAIS) could function as an effective and convenient means for advisers and students to access information on general education course offerings and options. The procedures for making adjustments to degree audits when students take unconventional, but acceptable, paths to satisfy requirements (such as independent research or service learning) need to be simplified. Finally, exercising reasonable flexibility should help when students encounter minor incompatibilities. Examples of this abound, such as the approach taken by Engineering when students change their assignment from a curriculum specifying Engl 202A or B instead of C; these students are simply asked to show proof of attending a workshop on writing in the workplace developed for students preparing for participation in the Engineering Co-op Program.

Resource Issues: Like the previous recommendation, some resources will be necessary to "jump start" the kind of collaboration and innovation envisioned here. There is some evidence that the faculty already have ideas for, and interest in, offering such courses if the real or perceived barriers to doing so are eliminated. Obviously, generating enrollments and credit hours not previously enjoyed by a unit can eventually result in reallocation of budgetary resources to the unit (currently a weak function and delayed somewhat from when the increased workload is incurred). Collaborative courses typically require the assignment of more faculty effort than courses taught by a single faculty member. There may also be "accounting" issues that need to be addressed when faculty lend their time and effort to courses not offered in their "home" departments. Even course linkages, if they are to be effective, require that the instructors for each course spend time involved with the counterpart course, especially during the first several times the courses are offered in that mode. A new fund to support faculty and departments through the transition period of four to five years, described under Recommendation #4, would also be appropriate for some aspects of Recommendation #5. In addition, small grants are currently made available for course development through the Schreyer Institute, the IDP Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and the individual colleges. These support centers also provide workshops and other programs to help faculty become familiar with good examples, models and mechanics for collaborative and innovative course offerings. The Provost's Collaborative Teaching and Curricular Innovations Special Recognition Program has, for the last several years, recognized efforts that closely approximate those targeted by the recommendation. While most of these have been oriented towards upper division courses, a similar recognition of general education entries would serve similar purposes of inducement and reward for the substantial effort involved.

Table of Contents...

OBJECTIVE IV: Reformulate the general education and related requirements, as deemed appropriate, to meet carefully targeted academic goals.

Recommendation #6: Restructure the existing, 4-credit, Health Science and Physical Education requirement to create a new, 3-credit, Health Sciences requirement that emphasizes an academic approach and rationale to issues and research concerning health and which may include physical activities that focus on lifespan wellness and fitness.

Rationale: It is fair to say that the presence of the Health Science/Physical Education requirement in the general education curriculum was one of the most hotly debated and divisive issues with which the Committee had to contend. Opinions within the Committee and submitted from without varied across the gamut -- from dropping the requirement altogether, to retaining it at its current total of 4 credits, to suggestions for various revisions in its content or credits assigned to it. Many individuals, themselves, held or expressed conflicting views on the issue, usually embodied by doubt that physical education and health are a good fit with the more formal, academic subject matter and content of the rest of general education, combined with a conviction that physical health and activity are crucial to (and inseparable from) mental health and the overall quality of life.

Two facts are fairly clear: (1) Penn State has a long history of recognizing the value of Health Science and Physical Education as an educational goal within the construct of its general education program, and (2) the issue has been and will continue to be a subject of discussion and debate (the University Faculty Senate most recently affirmed its commitment to the requirement in 1994). The SCGE, in its turn at giving the subject careful and comprehensive scrutiny, concludes that it is consistent with the goals of general education to include learning about the science of health and wellness; to teach students to think critically about these topics; and to help them learn about creating a personal physical fitness plan, as a foundation for exercise and lifelong activity. Consistent with the active learning theme of this entire report, the Committee also believes that actually engaging students in healthful physical activities, particularly where skills must be learned and practiced, can promote the objective of healthy living. The latter can occur either by taking courses that include some active engagement in physical activity, or though participation in intercollegiate, club, intramural or other extra-curricular sports activities.

Guidelines for Implementation: The goal of the Health Sciences requirement is to promote an understanding of the science behind health issues and the importance of active, healthful living across the lifespan. The revised requirement would have the following structure2:

It is expected that all courses will include learning experiences that engage students in personal assessment and effective decision-making regarding their own health and development. These experiences could, for example, be built around research and topical information pertaining to nutrition, substance abuse, disease prevention, exercise science, women's health, and the health care system. A mix of experiences, most likely involving any number of disciplines or departments, could serve. Those courses incorporating a skills or active component should be directed toward activities that apply across the lifespan (such as bicycling, cross-country skiing, dance, handball, jogging, skating, swimming, tennis, fitness walking, to name a few).

The new requirement could be phased-in over a period of two years, becoming effective (as defined above) for students entering in or after the Summer 1999 semester. For current students and those entering prior to Summer 1999, a three-credit mix of health science and/or ESACT courses would apply, provided at least one credit is taken in health science.

Resource Issues: The proposed Health Sciences requirement undoubtedly will require substantial refocusing of the courses currently offered largely by the Health Education and Kinesiology programs. While courses labeled ESACT will likely continue to be offered and to attract students on a voluntary basis (but would not satisfy the new requirement unless they met the new criteria), some of the effort that has been devoted towards these offerings could be redirected to comprise the "active" components that will be incorporated into some of the new Health Sciences courses. Also, it is expected that other academic units (Food Science, Nutrition and STS offer courses approved for the existing health science requirement) will take advantage of the broadened objectives by offering appropriately designed courses. It is anticipated that temporary funding to help with the transition will be needed, but no significant dislocation or other impact on faculty appointments is envisioned. Rather, the assignment of faculty to support courses will change as the new curriculum is phased in and displaces some of the courses, now focused purely on exercise and sports activities.

Table of Contents...

Recommendation #7: Refine the guidelines used in approving courses intended to develop intercultural and international competence, to emphasize student engagement and active learning.

Rationale: The current booklet on General Education and Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum (Penn State, 1997) describes the origin and intent of Penn State's diversity requirement. It correctly states that the requirement "grew out of nationwide educational movements aimed at better understanding the accomplishments, perspectives, aspirations, and conditions of women and minorities." It goes on to say that the University Faculty Senate considered the models of other schools -- some prescribing that students take "specific courses in African American and/or women's studies and/or courses emphasizing other minority groups -- but ultimately chose a broader program." The intent of the Penn State diversity requirement, was "to increase awareness of the richness and variety of backgrounds that students, faculty, and staff bring to the academic community" and to promote an understanding of "both the progress made in eliminating discrimination and prejudice from our society and the gaps between national ideals and performance." To address these goals, diversity courses were to be developed to consider (1) the concerns and contributions of women and minorities (defined by race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation) and (2) a national need for more tolerant cooperation with a complex and increasingly interdependent global community."

Six years after the requirement was implemented, it is appropriate to ask the question: Do the courses comprising the diversity curriculum achieve these goals and measure up to the above definition? Obviously, no one diversity-focused course (the diversity-enhanced designation has been discontinued) can meet all the objectives outlined above. The framers of the original requirement acknowledged as much, noting that the requirement cannot "guarantee that every student achieves a simultaneously deep and comprehensive overview of all the forms of diversity deserving attention;" that such requirements "support educational ideals, ... , declare the value of broad areas of enquiry," and "promote the development of a wide array of courses that affect the intellectual life of the community." We do not wish, for a variety of reasons, to judge how any of the almost 200 approved courses might fare according to this test. As with other requirements in the curriculum, however, we might ask what students are expected to do in taking a diversity course, or to be able to do having taken one. As a minimum, we suggest that courses should ask students to make comparisons, particularly with their own realm of experience.

Guidelines for Implementation: The SCGE actually makes two recommendations in relation to the intercultural and international competence component of general education. The first is to include this competence in the list of elements that can be selected for integration into all the domain knowledge-based courses (Recommendation #4). The second, outlined here, is to refine the focus of the current cultural diversity requirement. There are several facets to this:

The first of these is a subtle point. By making the requirement an explicit part of general education the Committee does not mean that it is the province only of the general education curriculum (i.e., that only approved and designated courses in general education would qualify) or that students cannot satisfy the requirement though approved courses or experiences that constitute other degree requirements (i.e., in the major). It is simply our intent to make it clear that Intercultural and International Competence should be a part of the education generic to, and shared by, all students. The same motivation was the impetus for our recommendation that this competence be included in the list of elements for integration, as appropriate, into the larger general education curriculum. If the latter is successful, and many courses eventually incorporate significant attention to cultural differences and international dimensions in their treatment of the respective subject matter, a special requirement may no longer be needed and could be dropped.

The second point essentially calls for clear criteria on which to judge the merits of proposed courses (or non-course experiences) intended to develop Intercultural and International Competence. There are currently criteria specified in the University Faculty Senate's Guide to Curricular Procedures (1997, pp. 15-17). While any judgment will involve subjectivity, course coordinators might be asked, for example, to demonstrate how students would be encouraged to do or achieve one or more of the following:

and, specifically in regard to international competence, to:

The final two points -- active learning and assessment -- are consistent with the themes developed throughout this entire report. Engagement and early involvement of students in thinking about and discussing these issues will increase the effectiveness of the learning that takes place and maximize its impact during the balance of their academic experience. Students should be provided, for instance with opportunities to argue their points and to process their reactions to the material in active ways, such as journal writing (which could be used to evaluate non-course experiences, as well). A systematic study of the impact of the requirement, via focus groups, surveys or other methodologies will aid in improving its effectiveness and, if an acknowledgment of diversity eventually permeates the entire curriculum, will indicate when the separate requirement is no longer needed.

The Senate subcommittee should review and adapt its guidelines for course development and approval, as well as guidelines used in the Colleges in approving the substitution of other experiences in lieu of formal coursework, along these lines. Faculty who are responsible for courses that are currently approved as meeting the requirement, and for any newly proposed courses, will be asked to explain how these outcomes are being addressed. Reevaluation of all courses should be completed in a period of, at most, two years. If the review is unfavorable, or in the event that appropriate documentation is not submitted for review, and a course is dropped from the approved list, any students who completed the course when it was still approved will be considered to have satisfied the requirement.

Resource Issues: The recommendation calls primarily for actions by the relevant Senate subcommittee and the corresponding upgrading of courses as necessary for re-approval to meet the requirement. The creation of a faculty development and education program would be appropriate to (a) inform instructors and advisers of the new expectations, and (b) introduce them to the pedagogical principles and scholarship to enable them to address these issues in their courses or in their advisory capacity. A modest amount of resources should be allocated for developing appropriate workshops, either centrally or in the colleges, and offering them on a periodic basis to interested faculty and staff.

Table of Contents...

Recommendation #8: Institute a new option to substitute 3 credits of study in a second language (at the third semester level or above) towards satisfaction of the general education requirements.

Rationale: Globalization is a fundamental and oft-cited characteristic of the times in which we live. Penn State's students must be educated to live comfortably and work productively in a politically, economically, socially, and culturally global environment.

Many aspects of education are relevant in this respect. In particular, there is recognition both by the members of the SCGE and in the advice we received (including feedback on our November 1996 working document) that the ability of college graduates to use a language other than English is especially important. Nationally, institutional practices vary considerably, but the SCGE has reviewed data showing that as many as two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities have foreign language requirements for the baccalaureate.

Penn State is already moving toward a requirement of two high school units of study in a second language for baccalaureate admission. This is the equivalent of one semester of college-level study; the accepted standard for meaningful writing, speaking, and listening ability is three to four semesters of college study. The new admission requirement is thus a useful foundation on which to build second language competence.

Despite support, in principle, for the goal of enhancing Penn State students' second language abilities, the SCGE recognizes several limitations. Because of staffing and resource constraints -- along with an already large general education credit load -- it would be impractical for us to recommend a University-wide baccalaureate requirement for second language study. Nonetheless, it is not necessary or desirable to avoid this issue entirely. We believe the change recommended here is a positive, productive step that makes a Penn State education more responsive to inter-cultural and global realities. At the same time, as an option rather than a requirement, it represents a flexible, realistic step that does not require major dislocations in student progress, course enrollment patterns, curricula, teaching, resource allocations, and the like. This recommendation also is, very importantly, respectful of student interests, abilities, and commitments. It is a useful, reasonable, and viable option for students to have.

Guidelines for Implementation: The intent of this recommendation is to encourage more than just introductory second language study. Students who wish to integrate study of a second language into their baccalaureate programs may substitute the third semester (or equivalent or higher proficiency) course for any three credits in the general education requirement. In those cases where courses in the general education curriculum apply towards accreditation criteria in a program or serve as pre- or co-requisites for other courses in general education or a specific major (usually in the "skills" category), students will need to seek the counsel of their academic advisers on where to make the substitution. This option could be made effective immediately upon approval of the Faculty Senate and thus be available to any students who are currently enrolled in baccalaureate programs at the University.

Resource Issues: The resource implications should be minimal. We do not expect many students to take advantage of this option in the immediate future since only courses at the third semester or above can be used in this way. Also, those students who do choose to do so will be able to opt out of any other general education requirement -- thereby spreading the effect, so that no single specific course or program will lose substantial enrollments. For these reasons, we do not believe the recommendation will have a large, short-term impact on student course-taking patterns or on resource decisions. Over time, some changes would probably be desirable -- for example, to allow second language delivery to be more responsive to student choices about which language to study. However, there need be no immediate resource implications that follow directly from this recommendation.

Table of Contents...

OBJECTIVE V: Institutionalize a process for formative assessment that is based on measurable outcomes, recognizes the importance of learning processes and informs continuous curricular improvement.

Recommendation #9: Initiate a systematic, formative, assessment mechanism: namely, a faculty-oriented, administratively supported, general education assessment interest group. The goal of this initiative is to gain timely, practical insights into what students should be learning, what and how well they are learning, the opportunities provided by Penn State's curriculum, and how the University can continually improve general education.

Rationale: There are many compelling driving forces for building an assessment process into the general education program. One of the most obvious to the Committee is that a good assessment mechanism could obviate the impulse or need to gear up a committee like this every decade or so. Accordingly, one of the most important and distinctive contributions we can make is to spark the continual examination and evolution of the general education curriculum. The committee is, therefore, explicitly NOT attempting to define a Penn State general education, circa 1997, with the idea that it will serve the university for another ten or twelve years.

The experience of attempting periodic overhaul at this institution and others is, with rare exceptions, a painful exercise. In the words of one correspondent to the Committee: "I spent 26 years at another university that wasted countless faculty hours reinventing general education a half dozen times. The process was intellectually flawed and cynically politicized on every occasion." Another memorandum to the Committee relates: "One of my first administrative duties was to Chair a general education committee at a large public university, and I have never forgotten the committee's sincere feeling that our current program was not what it needed to be or the rest of the university's often intense feeling, in response to our proposal, that it should be left well enough alone." Even if there is a widely-held conviction that something needs to be fixed, there is always pessimism as to whether it can be fixed, how to fix it and whether we can afford to fix it; "taking a plunge into the chasm of unknown consequences," as a third correspondent puts it.

The SCGE has attempted, in its examination of general education, to bring a disciplined approach to assessment. But, despite having made some modest suggestions for change emanating from the results of its assessment, the Committee is convinced that more continuous, formative assessment must be built in to the university's academic processes. Although change always incurs risk, the risks can be minimized when proposed changes are informed and guided by sound information. While not as newsworthy as periodic calls or attempts at overhaul, incremental change inspired by continuous assessment and feedback ultimately has a greater potential for really improving the curriculum. It allows for planning and responsible allocation of sufficient resources, avoids the much-feared disruptions in curricular patterns, and has a better chance of involving the various academic programs in the change process.

Fortunately, Penn State has been giving attention to assessment for some time and is even seen among its peer institutions as one of the leaders. As illustrated by earlier summaries in this report, we know a lot from surveys and other data about what courses students are taking and what they and former students think about our curriculum and its outcomes. However, we have not regularly used this information, in combination with some measure of what general education actually offers (specific content, assignments, activities, etc.), to determine whether the general education curriculum needs modification or upgrading to be more effective.

Guidelines for Implementation: Penn State's institutional approach to assessment to date has focused primarily upon assessment of and within academic programs, such as undergraduate majors. Those efforts have followed from the 1993 recommendations of the assessment working group (chaired by Lou Geschwindner), a subcommittee of the Commission for Undergraduate Education. We believe that many of the principles that have guided the University's approach to the assessment of undergraduate academic degree programs apply equally well to a more systematic implementation of general education assessment.

The most important of those principles is that assessment should be undertaken primarily for the purpose improving teaching and learning -- that is, to provide evidence on how well Penn State's programs and activities are meeting the objectives of general education. Assessment is most useful when it provides evidence about how well Penn State is achieving its goals, and enables the University both to revisit those goals and to plan for and implement improvements. With this in mind, assessment must be owned and guided by the faculty -- not by the administration, and not by any particular college or department -- who are responsible for and deliver general education at Penn State. Although the support and leadership of central administration will be necessary, assessment should be seen as a grass-roots, sustainable part of the academic enterprise, as opposed to a massive, expensive, highly centralized bureaucratic add-on. Also, assessment should be multi-dimensional and open to a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods and measures, and it should take into account both processes and outcomes. In evaluating writing skills, for example, portfolios prepared by students might provide evidence of whether students are expected and being offered the opportunity to write -- a process question -- and may also address the outcomes question of how well they are writing.

Assessment should occur at multiple levels -- within departments and majors and by units responsible for delivering various broad components of general education. In this way, the assessment process has the best prospects for recognizing and respecting different disciplinary cultures, perspectives, and goals. Again, for the example of writing: an engineering faculty member reading a student's lab report may conclude that the student didn't learn much about good writing technique in freshman composition. An English professor might read the same report and come to a very different conclusion, as might an instructor who regularly teaches the composition course. These differences can be resolved by understanding the goals and expectations, as well as the starting point, at each level. Good communication and adjustments that will facilitate greater consistency among goals at different levels, and across the curriculum, can significantly improve teaching and learning outcomes. Faculty don't do enough of this kind of consultation.

Formative general education assessment at the University level should be geared to improving the general education curriculum, and not to individual courses, faculty, or individual students. Faculty already evaluate students' performance in courses. Faculty sometimes evaluate knowledge, or performance, or satisfaction later on. Students evaluate teachers at the end of each semester. Penn State often surveys students or graduates for their opinions on how much they learned, or on how well they think they were prepared. The University doesn't often look to see how much opportunity students had to practice the skills, or engage in the activities, that faculty, administrators, alumni, and employers all believe are important. This opportunity or process dimension would likely be a fruitful area for assessment and improvement of the curriculum.

Consistent with all of the above, we also believe that a useful, formative general education assessment at Penn State probably will not be heavily reliant on standardized tests. Although such tests can have some advantages, they do not fit especially well with the range and diversity of programs and students at a large research university; they may discriminate against women and minorities; and they seem better suited to summative or comparative reports than to formative uses.

Implementation of general education assessment should be guided by a general education assessment interest group. This group would be convened and supported by the central administration, and open to anyone who is interested, but it would be geared primarily toward faculty. The idea is that the interest group could sponsor both a discussion / seminar series, and one or two major assessment ventures each year. For example, the seminars might uncover particular faculty interest in student portfolios, or the first-year transition, or writing opportunities, or information technology, or cultural sensitivity, or something else. Interested faculty would then organize, design, and undertake -- with central support -- research likely to lead to timely, practical insights about what students should be learning, what and how well they are learning, the opportunities provided by Penn State's general education curriculum, and how the University can continually improve that curriculum. The findings of the general assessment interest group should be shared openly and widely, and especially with the Faculty Senate, to facilitate continual examination and strengthening of general education at Penn State. Of course, administrative expertise (for example, in the offices of Undergraduate Education, the Registrar, Admissions, Quality and Planning) should continue to be employed as necessary to centrally compile data and analyze data -- with an emphasis upon actionable, improvement oriented information.

Resource Issues: General education assessment could follow the above implementation guidelines with minimal additional direct costs. The general education assessment interest group could be convened by a representative of the Provost, with connections to the appropriate Faculty Senate committees, the involvement of other Penn State personnel with related expertise and responsibilities, and the participation of interested faculty from across the University. No support for new permanent staffing, faculty, or release time is anticipated. Some new permanent funding would be needed for the seminar series and the one or two research projects (paying for student interviewers, graduate research assistants, data coding, printing and mailing costs, and the like). That funding would probably be on the order of $50,000 per year.

Table of Contents...

Recommendation #10: The University Faculty Senate leadership shall develop an appropriate mechanism for oversight of the implementation of the recommended changes to the general education curriculum. This shall include making necessary revisions to the "Guide to Curricular Procedures;" examination and refinement, as warranted, of the faculty committee/subcommittee organization for course approvals; study of the process used for submission of, and action on, course proposals; and monitoring and coordination of the implementation process and schedule.

Rationale: Substantial improvements have been made in recent years by the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs in regard to the course submission and approval process, including a provision for expedited review under appropriate circumstances and revision of the course proposal form and associated guidelines. However, the subcommittee structure and course review process is still frequently perceived by faculty submitting course proposals as overly complex and inefficient. Two of the five standing subcommittees of the Committee on Curricular Affairs are directly involved with the issues addressed in this report (the University General Education Subcommittee and University Subcommittee on Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum). Further, the University Writing Subcommittee is involved in general education course approvals when designation of a proposed course as writing intensive is sought, and the Bachelor of Arts Requirements Subcommittee (formerly known as the Core Colleges Committee) is charged with defining the degree requirements for B. A. candidates that draw on similar knowledge domains but exceed the general education requirements for the baccalaureate degree. All told, there are 38 members of these subcommittees, which report their recommendations to the parent Committee on Curricular Affairs.

It seems prudent that there be some coordinated effort to evaluate the current course approval process and committee/subcommittee organization to see if there are benefits or efficiencies that might be realized by altering the current structure or procedures. Many of the recommendations advanced by the SCGE emphasize a more integrated approach to the curriculum -- more integration of active learning and skills application in the knowledge domains, encouragement of course linkages and collaborative teaching, and design of courses to meet multiple curricular objectives (for example, a first-year seminar that might also meet the requirements in one of the knowledge domains). The predominant activity of the subcommittees to date, aside from conducting periodic reviews and reporting on the curriculum, has been to evaluate independently submitted course proposals. There is much evidence that this charge has been carried out responsibly and effectively. However, there will be a need in the future for ongoing study and development of new approaches for administration of general education. Official tracking of students' satisfaction of general education requirements (especially when experiential learning and other non-conventional approaches are taken), Web-based delivery of advisory information on opportunities in general education, and course scheduling patterns where linkages or clustering are involved are a few of the concerns that will need to be addressed by the Faculty Senate, in collaboration with appropriate administrative and academic support offices. It will also be important to systematically re-examine how the new general education curriculum interfaces with other curricular elements, such as the B. A. degree requirements. Finally, Recommendation #9 calls for a formative assessment process that will facilitate continuous evolution and improvement of the general education curriculum. It will be important to have an organizational structure in place that will afford a timely and proactive response to the input derived from assessment activities. Some of this input is likely to impact broader educational issues that fall within the charge of the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education, as well. In keeping with the overall theme of this report, we will want to have a system in place that will actively employ what we learn through our ongoing experience with general education.

Resource Issues: There are no direct resource implications of this recommendation. Some efficiencies in the use of faculty time and effort may, in fact, be realized through a well-conceived reorganization plan.

Table of Contents...


The primary objectives on which the Committee's recommendations for change are founded are summarized as follows:

Clearly, a number of alternative strategies exist for accomplishing these goals, individually and collectively. The recommendations offered by the Committee are simply our best effort at selecting from the available or known options -- to put together a plan that is responsible and affordable and, we hope, will represent a significant improvement in the general education of our students.

The diagram on the next page illustrates and highlights some of the key elements of the proposed plan.

(1) In the center of the diagram are the curricular requirements in general education for baccalaureate and associate degree candidates, respectively. These are composed of SKILLS and DOMAIN KNOWLEDGE (Distribution Requirements) course work, including a restructured Health Sciences component (Recommendation #6) for baccalaureate degree candidates. Through more systematic and diagnostic placement in the skills courses (Recommendation #2) students will enter into courses that develop their proficiency in writing, speaking and quantification that are crucial to their academic success. By designing and delivering courses that emphasize the needs of students in the various, broad disciplines (Recommendation #3), students will have the opportunity to master specific competencies that are critical to their career interests and professional advancement. As indicated in the notes at the bottom of the diagram, the general education curriculum is intended both to expose students to knowledge domains beyond the specific focuses of their majors and to acknowledge the intersections of these knowledge areas with their disciplines (thus allowing general education courses to meet requirements of the major, as appropriate and as they do now). A wide range of options and innovative approaches are envisioned for students to meet the requirements (Recommendation #5), guided by attentive advising and facilitated by efficient record keeping, and preserving the "portability" and "mobility" that will encourage students to experiment and to discover their best talents.

(2) The left side of the diagram identifies the active learning elements (Recommendation #4) that, through their integration into the course work in the knowledge domains, will reinforce students' ability to apply the communication and quantification skills they have acquired. Further, these expectations for active engagement in learning are intended to develop students' capabilities for both independent and collaborative problem solving, supported by information literacy and synthesis, by exposure to comparative practices and by informed discussion and debate.

(3) The right side of the diagram shows the curricular elements intended to introduce and/or promote student engagement in other important dimensions of learning: a First-Year Seminar (Recommendation #1) to connect students early in their academic experience with their studies, community and college life; an Intercultural and International Competence component (Recommendation #7) that emphasizes active engagement and a deeper and more sophisticated perspective of their own lives, and of other peoples, their cultures and the world; and a new Study of a Foreign/Second Language option (Recommendation #8) that recognizes the increasingly global context in which students will live and work. The first two of these may be interwoven with the general education curriculum to the extent that (first-year and diversity-focused) courses may be developed which are approved to meet specific skills or knowledge domain requirements, provided care is taken to ensure that they will be accepted by all colleges and majors to meet these requirements. The second-language option is structured as a substitutional, rather than an overlapping, element.

It should be noted that the proposed modifications to the general education do not impact the Bachelor of Arts Degree Requirements, which constitute a total of 12 to 24 credits in a foreign language, the arts, the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and other cultures. These credits are currently prescribed to be taken above and beyond the requirements of general education. The Bachelor of Arts Requirements Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs provides oversight for these requirements.

The new framework for general education does not represent a major overhaul of what students will learn. The recommendations do not significantly alter curricular content, nor will they cause a substantial shift in course taking or credit generation patterns. The Committee has, however, attempted to address the process of learning and to create evidence and measures, as an integral part of the curriculum, that afford an evaluation of what students have learned. The recommendation for formative assessment (Recommendation #9) is dependent on this evidence and will set the stage for a very different approach to renewal of the curriculum than that which has prevailed to date -- one that will inspire continuous evolution and systematic improvement of the general education curriculum as a provocative and enlightening part of students' education at Penn State. Finally, the SCGE encourages the Faculty Senate to simplify the curricular approval process and to seek a coordinated approach for implementing curricular improvements (Recommendation #10), in essence, closing the feedback loop.

Table of Contents...

Unanimous Endorsement

Obviously, no one can say, "Do this, and Penn State's educational goals are met." Yet the prospect of developing and nurturing a Penn State curriculum that entices students into scholarship, that opens their minds and inspires their creativity and abilities, is exciting. The members of the Special Committee on General Education unanimously endorse the recommendations outlined in this document. We believe they will advance the stature of the general education curriculum as a source of pride and identity with Penn State and we are pleased to propose them for adoption by our colleagues.

Table of Contents...


Ad Hoc Committee on General Education (June 1996). Proposal for a general education requirement in health. University Park, PA: Office of the Dean, College of Health and Human Development.

Alexander, King (Spring 1995). CIC institutional assessment plan summary. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bickson, Tora K. (Spring 1996). Educating a globally prepared workforce. Liberal Education, 12-19.

Brighton, John A. (11 October, 1996). Memorandum. University Park, PA: Executive Vice President and Provost.

Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (1996). The diversity course requirement at Penn State. University Park, PA: Vice Provost for Educational Equity.

Diamond, Robert M. (August 1, 1997). Broad curriculum reform is needed. Chronicle of Higher Education, B7.

Damrosch, David (1995). We scholars. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dooris, Michael J., and James M. Rambeau (April 1995). Alumni conversations on general education. University Park, PA: Office of Undergraduate Education.

Gipps, Caroline V. (1994). Beyond testing: towards a theory of educational assessment. London: Falmer Press.

Goodstein, Lynne (1994). The failure of curriculum transformation at a major public university: When 'diversity' equals 'variety.' NWSA Journal 6(1), 82-102.

Jones, Elizabeth A., Steven Hoffman, Lynn Melander Moore and Michael Nugent (March 1996). Linking student assessment outcomes and general education with faculty perceptions. University Park, PA: The National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

Light, Richard (1990). The Harvard assessment seminars: first report. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Light, Richard (1992). The Harvard assessment seminars: second report. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Pascarella, Ernest T. and Patrick T. Terenzini (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Pennsylvania State University (1991). A campaign for excellence: the report of the task force on undergraduate education. University Park, PA: Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education.

The Pennsylvania State University (1993). A plan for the assessment of undergraduate education. University Park, PA: Commission for Undergraduate Education.

The Pennsylvania State University (1994). Diversity and general education curricular components: Benchmarking the big ten. University Park, PA: Office of Undergraduate Education.

The Pennsylvania State University (1995). Curricular coherence and relevance report. University Park, PA: Commission for Undergraduate Education. 

The Pennsylvania State University (1996). Educational outcomes assessment: highlights of alumni survey. University Park, PA: Office of Undergraduate Education. 

The Pennsylvania State University (1997). General education and cultural diversity in the curriculum. University Park, PA: Office of Undergraduate Education.

Rosovsky, Henry (1990). The university: An owner's manual. New York: W. W. Norton.

Rudolph, Frederick (1977). Curriculum. For the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education, reprinted in 1992. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Senate Actions (1996). Collection of Penn State Senate actions associated with general education, 1983 through 1995. University Park, PA: Office of Undergraduate Education.

Society for Values in Higher Education (1995). Exploring good practice in higher education. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.

University Faculty Senate (1988). Senate record 11-8-88. University Park, PA: Office of the University Faculty Senate. 

University Faculty Senate (1994). Summary of the university's general education initiatives. University Park, PA: Office of the University Faculty Senate. 

University Faculty Senate (1996). The effect of excessive alcohol consumption on the learning environment. University Park, PA: Office of the University Faculty Senate. 

University Faculty Senate (1997). Guide to curricular procedures. University Park, PA: Office of the University Faculty Senate. 

Weingartner, Rudolph H. (1993). Undergraduate education: goals and means. Phoenix, AZ: American Council on Education and The Oryx Press. 

Willits, Fern K, Betty L. Moore and Diane Enerson (1997). Quality of instruction: Surveys of students and teachers at University Park. University Park, PA: Instructional Development Program (IDP) Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Table of Contents...

[Report of the Special Committee on General Education, Introduction] [Report of the Special Committee on General Education] [Framework for General Education] [General Education Legislation] [Senate Discussion]


This page maintained by the University Faculty Senate (
Created by Dan Nugent for
The Center for Quality and Planning,

Penn State University
Last Updated: March 30, 1998