Toward Intentionality and Transparency: Analysis and Reflection on the Process of General Education Reform

Article excerpt

In 2000, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) launched its multiyear initiative, Greater Expectations: The Commitment to Quality as a Nation Goes to College. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) was one of sixteen colleges and universities from across the nation selected to participate in the Greater Expectations Consortium on Quality Education. This initiative intersected with structural and cultural changes at our university. Involvement with the Greater Expectations initiative and subsequent AAC&U programs provided a number of us at UNL multiple opportunities to interact with colleagues from a variety of institutions through consortium meetings and symposia. We were exposed to new ways of thinking and approaches to undergraduate education, which in turn contributed to our ability as an institution to articulate and develop a coherent strategy toward continuous improvement of the campus learning environment.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a different institution than it was in 2000. We have benefitted from strong, focused administrative leadership whose priorities are continuous improvement of our research, graduate, and undergraduate programs. Reports from three key faculty task forces (available online at www.unl.edu/svcaa/reports/) provided the campus community with vision and guidance for raising both the intellectual engagement and achievement of the entire campus community. In addition, there have been purposeful structural changes and reallocation of resources within the institution to provide greater visibility and support to the success of our undergraduate students. For example, the office of undergraduate studies, led by an academic dean, was established in 2003 with responsibilities for all academic programs and initiatives outside the eight undergraduate colleges. This includes a diverse set of responsibilities and yet provides a coherent structure, leadership, and oversight for institutional programs.

The campus is committed to a strategic planning process, first introduced in 2004. At UNL, strategic planning is a 'grassroots' process, beginning with academic priorities established at the unit level and then advancing through the college level. Deans present their college's academic priorities and benchmarks for success, which in turn are incorporated into the campus-wide strategic plan. The strategic planning process established the blueprint for prioritizing efforts on campus. As a result of the planning, the chancellor in 2005 recommended reform of our general education program, partly because the curriculum was viewed as complicated and unattractive to students transferring to our university and to current students transferring from one college to another within the institution. The major work by those in the university community to accomplish this task provides evidence that one of the major changes in the university is a shift to become more intentional about what students should learn.

LET THE PROCESS BEGIN

The formal process for reform of our general education reorganization began in 2005, when the chancellor and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs (SVCAA) appointed the associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and the dean of undergraduate studies to lead the reform process. In addition, four faculty members representing key campus constituencies were chosen to comprise the initial planning group, known as the General Education Planning Team (GEPT).

The GEPT attended the 2005 AAC&U Institute on General Education at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island and interacted with institute faculty and colleagues from across the country whose institutions were also involved in transforming their general education programs. GEPT returned with a plan and timeline for organizing the campuswide initiative. The plan called for a new approach to designing general education; that is, one based upon student learning outcomes rather than a menu of particular courses. …