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2.7.3 General Education PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 August 2009 18:34

2.7.3 General Education

In each undergraduate degree program, the institution requires the successful completion of a general education component at the collegiate level that (1) is a substantial component of each undergraduate degree, (2) ensures breadth of knowledge, and (3) is based on a coherent rationale. For degree completion in associate programs, the component constitutes a minimum of 15 semester hours or the equivalent; for baccalaureate programs, a minimum of 30 semester hours or the equivalent. These credit hours are to be drawn from and include at least one course from each of the following areas: humanities/fine arts, social/behavioral sciences, and natural science/mathematics. The courses do not narrowly focus on those skills, techniques, and procedures specific to a particular occupation or profession. If an institution uses a unit other than semester credit hours, it provides an explanation for the equivalency. The institution also provides a justification if it allows for fewer than the required number of semester credit hours or its equivalent unit of general education courses.

Responsible Unit: Division of Academic Affairs

Compliance Judgment



History of General Education Reform: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) requires all undergraduate students to successfully complete a common general education core curriculum [1] referred to as the University Studies (UNST) curriculum. The UNST core curriculum requires a minimum of thirty-seven credit hours consisting of an interdisciplinary set of five courses in the freshman year (thirteen credit hours), four interdisciplinary courses within a theme cluster after the foundation courses (twelve credit hours), three additional courses stipulated by the individual academic programs (nine credit hours), a capstone course (three credit hours) and fifty hours of volunteer service. These courses represent a substantial component of each undergraduate degree, which range from 124 and 128 credit hours, or approximately 30% of the total credit hours required for a typical program [2].

General Education

Beginning in spring 2002, A&T undertook a comprehensive review and revision of its general education program as part of the FUTURES strategic vision initiative [3]. The General Education Review Committee, with faculty representatives from each of the colleges and schools, oversaw the review process, developing recommendations for revising the general education program and implementing changes in the general education curriculum.

A new general education structure and curriculum - University Studies - was implemented in fall 2006 and the first University Studies dean, Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr., was hired in August 2005 to lead and manage the program. The UNST curriculum is the heart of the university's academic mission to prepare undergraduate students for careers in a dynamic, global, knowledge-based economy that demands lifelong learning.

The General Education Core Curriculum Review Committee (Appendix A) was formed during the spring semester of 2002 to review A&T's current general education program with the aim of recommending revisions to the core curriculum that would promote the development of a broad set of intellectual skills in students, introduce students to various methods of inquiry, provide students with the foundational skills needed to succeed in their major and career, and encourage the development of a responsive learning environment providing "visionary and distinctive interdisciplinary learning, discovery, and engagement" (Goal 2 of the FUTURES Vision Statement).

During the curriculum review stage, the committee undertook a comprehensive review of A&T's current general education program, including comparisons with peer institutions (Appendix B), surveys of faculty, student transcript reviews, and student focus groups. The result of this review was a summary report [4], completed in June 2002. During the fall semester of 2003, external consultants from the University of Minnesota and North Carolina State University visited campus to review the general education program and provided the committee with a report of their findings [5]. The committee responded to the external reviewers' recommendations in spring of 2003 and also developed an initial draft of general education objectives and expected outcomes.

During the summer of 2003, a General Education Core Curriculum Review Committee Executive Committee (Appendix C) was formed to begin developing a detailed General Education Review and Revision Plan, including a timeline.

At the August 2003 Faculty-Staff Institute, the General Education Core Curriculum Committee's draft objectives/expected outcomes and review plan [6] were shared with the faculty. During the fall 2003 semester, the committee conducted a series of town hall meetings (Appendix D) to solicit feedback on the initial draft of the general education objectives/expected outcomes, with the aim of developing a revised set of objectives/expected outcomes that would form the foundation for the revised general education curriculum. These revised learning objectives [7], as well as a general education mission statement and "guiding principles," were endorsed by faculty in each school/college in spring 2004.

During late spring and summer 2004, the committee's work turned toward developing a revised general education curriculum, program assessment process, and governance structure.

Development of a revised general education core curriculum, assessment process, and governance structure [8] began during spring 2004, following attendance by three of the executive committee members at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) annual Assessment Conference in Long Beach, CA, in March 2004.

In the following two months, the General Education Core Curriculum Committee developed drafts of a preliminary model of a revised general education structure [9] for A&T based on the highly successful (and nationally recognized) University Studies program at Portland State University [10]. A preliminary draft of the general structure of this model, based on an intentional intellectual development process for students highlighting four knowledge areas (communication, critical thinking, social responsibility, civic engagement and ethics, and diversity and world cultures) was developed during late spring 2004. In addition, the committee began to discuss potential governance models.

In May 2004, A&T was selected to attend the AAC&U Institute on General Education (May 21-26) in Newport, RI, following a competitive proposal process. Five members of the General Education Core Curriculum Committee participated in the institute, working on the areas of program structure, program and course assessment, and program governance. During the institute, the team had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a number of nationally recognized experts in general education revision. The work of the team led to a number of action items to be undertaken during the 2004-2005 academic year.

During summer 2004, sixteen faculty members (Appendix E) were engaged in redesigning existing courses to serve as pilot general education courses during fall 2004. The objective of this course redesign was to align the courses with the new general education learning objectives, increase the interdisciplinary nature of the courses, and experiment with innovative pedagogy and assessment techniques. Five faculty members from the History Department (Appendix F) worked on revising the HIST 101 course as part of the UNC-wide "Large Enrollment Course Redesign" initiative. This course was team taught for the first time in spring 2005 in large-enrollment sections using University Studies learning objectives as its foundation. In fall 2005 this course was renamed The Contemporary World and slated for inclusion in the foundation-level courses of University Studies.

In fall 2004, a proposed University Studies curriculum structure was drafted [11] for campus-wide discussion and the Faculty Senate endorsed the University Studies learning objectives and curriculum model, as well as the program name, University Studies (replacing "General Education"). In late fall, the University Studies committee held town hall meetings and met with every department on campus to update the campus on the University Studies curriculum, the development of thematic clusters, and departmental implications of the new University Studies curriculum. Four initial thematic clusters were selected. In addition, a Faculty Roundtable [12] was developed to set policies related to University Studies curricular matters and serve as the vehicle for approving courses to be included in the thematic clusters. The Faculty Roundtable works closely with the dean of University Studies and the University Studies committee.

In spring 2005, planning accelerated for the new University Studies program. Advertisements were drafted and sent out for University Studies faculty position. In addition, Dr. Peggy Maki--a former senior scholar and director of assessment at the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), and author of Assessing for Learning (2004), published by Stylus Publishing--and Dr. Terrell Rhodes, vice provost for curriculum and dean of Undergraduate Studies at Portland State University, led a two-day series of workshops on interdisciplinary teaching and learning and assessment of student learning. Departmental curriculum guides began to be updated to meet University Studies requirements, and a formal presentation was made to the Faculty Senate seeking approval of the University Studies curriculum and thematic clusters. However, in February 2005, the chancellor announced that implementation of University Studies would be delayed one year, from fall 2005 to fall 2006.

Later in spring 2005, a call for proposals for University Studies course development during the summer of 2005 was announced. Ultimately, more than seventy-five faculty members (Appendix G) were involved in developing or revising twenty-six University Studies courses (Appendix H) during May and June 2005 under the direction of Scott Simkins, director of the Academy for Teaching and Learning. Over $250,000 was spent on this course development initiative [13]. In April 2005, the Faculty Senate approved the foundation-level courses and other administrative details of the University Studies program, but tabled the thematic cluster portion of the program until fall.

In August 2005, a dean was named to oversee a new administrative unit and the University Studies program and curriculum. In September, the , A&T Board of Trustees formally endorsed the University Studies curriculum and implementation schedule. Later in fall, the Faculty Senate approved the initial set of University Studies thematic clusters and courses, paving the way for implementation of the University Studies curriculum in fall 2006. During fall 2005 and spring 2006, University Studies faculty members were hired to teach foundation-level courses: Critical Writing, Analytical Reasoning, and The African American Experience. In addition, an associate dean for University Studies was hired in late spring 2006. The new University Studies program also began attracting national attention after presentations at the national AAC&U conference [14] and a regional teaching and learning conference.

During summer 2006, University Studies faculty members were busy preparing foundation-level courses for implementation in fall 2006; parents and incoming freshmen were introduced to University Studies during freshman orientation sessions; and the University Studies administrative staff and faculty members moved to renovated office space on the first floor of Hines Hall. In late summer the Academy for Teaching and Learning led a two-day teaching-learning workshop for University Studies faculty focusing on course design, active student learning, effective teaching pedagogies, and assessment of student learning [15]. Adjunct and tenure-track faculty members, along with graduate student teaching assistants, participated in the workshop. Course-based teams (Appendix I) held initial team meetings and planned for regular team meetings throughout the semester. In August 2006, the University Studies program was implemented, offering foundation-level courses to all entering freshman students [16].

Rationale for General Education Program: The purpose of the general education (University Studies) core curriculum at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is to provide a framework for critical inquiry that serves as a foundation for continuing academic development and life-long learning [17]. Through discovery, inquiry, analysis, and application, the core curriculum promotes:

  • broad-based critical-thinking skills,
  • effective written and oral communication of ideas,
  • appreciation for diverse cultures and,
  • commitment to ongoing civic engagement and social responsibility.

The UNST core curriculum derives its purpose from the university's goal to prepare students through interdisciplinary learning and discovery to assume leadership roles in a fast-changing global society. Through course work and co-curricular experiences, the UNST core curriculum develops in students an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge, encourages cross-disciplinary dialogue, and promotes the development of intentional learners who take responsibility for their learning.

Guiding Principles

  • The UNST core curriculum serves as a bridge to advanced study within disciplinary majors, where the critical thinking skills developed during a student's first two years of course work are further developed and enhanced [17]. The core curriculum extends into the major with an emphasis on the continued development of effective critical thinking and communication skills, culminating in a senior-level capstone experience that highlights and reflects students' intellectual development within and across disciplines. While the core curriculum [17] promotes foundation-level knowledge in a broad array of disciplines, it is important to note that it does not provide all the preparation needed for every major. Some majors will require additional course work, field experiences, and collaborative learning skills to meet discipline-specific needs (e.g., civil engineering, industrial engineering, etc.).
  • The UNST core curriculum provides a common foundation for building the knowledge and skills that are required in today's fast-changing society. Every graduate, regardless of his or her major, will possess a common set of attributes defined by the core curriculum's learning objectives [17].
  • Students demonstrate their achievement of these learning objectives and associated learning outcomes through ongoing assessment at both the course and program level. In addition, academic departments offering courses that fulfill UNST core curriculum requirements regularly provide evidence that the courses are achieving the learning objectives that they were originally developed to achieve.

UNST Curriculum Structure: Conceptually, the University Studies curriculum represents an intentional developmental process focused on introducing basic inquiry, discovery, and critical thinking skills in the freshman year; strengthening analytical and problem-solving skills in the sophomore year; deepening those skills through course work in the major during the junior and senior years; and ending with an interdisciplinary, integrative capstone experience in the senior year. At each of these levels, course work and experiences outside the classroom build and reinforce critical thinking and communication skills, social responsibility and ethical decision-making, and appreciation and understanding of diverse cultures. These concepts are implemented through a general education core curriculum composed of thirty-seven credit hours. These include a series of foundation (thirteen credit hours) and theme-based "problem-solving" cluster courses twelve credit hours) culminating in a capstone experience (three credit hours) and program-defined courses (nine credit hours).

The foundation courses develop the basic framework of the University Studies curriculum and focus on four major goals: broad-based critical-thinking skills; effective written and oral communication of ideas; appreciation for diverse cultures; and commitment to ongoing civic engagement and social responsibility. The foundation courses emphasize formative and summative assessment, active learning, and introduction to interdisciplinary thinking. The foundation courses include a one-credit seminar course that emphasizes the role of the University Studies program and presents an overview of the curriculum structure and rationale. The seminar introduces students to a variety of interdisciplinary themes within the UNST program. Four additional foundation courses [17] focus on the four major goals of the UNST program and emphasize formative and summative assessment, active learning, and introduction to interdisciplinary thinking. A brief description of each foundation course is provided below.

UNST 100: University Experience (1 credit): This seminar emphasizes the role of the University Studies program and presents an overview of the curriculum structure and rationale, including an introduction to interdisciplinary themes within the UNST program. Introductory discussions on ethics, wellness and healthy lifestyles, diversity and civic engagement are included.

UNST 110: Critical Writing (3 credits): This course introduces students to reading comprehension and the writing process. Students read and evaluate selected texts and develop critical thinking abilities through writing and speaking. Students engage in formal and informal writing, pay attention to grammar and conventions of standard written English, revise drafts and respond to constructive feedback. All students develop a writing portfolio for course assessment.

UNST 120: Contemporary World (3 credits): This course examines the social, economic, political, and cultural roots of the contemporary world. It focuses on the major developments, events, and ideas that have shaped world societies since the beginning of the twentieth century. Close attention is given to concepts and categories that allow students to grasp the nature and development of the contemporary world, thus providing them with a framework to understand the global experience in modern times. The course helps students to develop critical thinking skills in their oral and written work and to learn to use information technology effectively. (This course satisfies the SACS requirement of one social/behavioral course).

UNST 130: Analytical Reasoning (3 credits): This survey course gives students an overview of scientific, quantitative, and logical reasoning to prepare them to interpret and solve problems encountered in everyday life. Students consider concepts from logic and the scientific disciplines including life, social, and physical sciences. The scientific method and a variety of analytical approaches are explored, including numerical, graphical, verbal/logical, and algebraic approaches. (This course satisfies the SACS requirement of one mathematics/science course).

UNST 140: The African American Experience: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (3 credits):

This course provides an interdisciplinary perspective to the important contributions made and the challenges faced by people of African descent in America and the global community. This course focuses on oral, written, and visual means of expression as a basis for discussion, analysis and debate. (This course satisfies the SACS requirement of one humanities/fine arts course).

After taking the foundation courses, students select one cluster theme and take twelve credit hours within the same theme [17]. The UNST core requires twelve credit hours of theme-based courses. All foundation courses (or their equivalent) must be completed before taking theme-based courses. If a student decides to change to a different theme, he/she has to satisfy course requirements for the new theme. Theme-based courses emphasize interdisciplinary learning motivated by societal issues and problems, are communications-intensive, and emphasize formative and summative assessment. Beginning with the 2008-2009 academic year, thematic clusters undergo comprehensive evaluation annually by the UNST dean and its Faculty Roundtable. Modification of the clusters is made to ensure consistency with UNST goals and objectives. In addition, three courses (nine credit hours) [17] are specified by the individual degree programs, provided each of these additional courses adds to or reinforces one or more of the learning objectives.

The capstone course is designed and specified by individual degree programs and should be consistent with the goals and objectives of the UNST program [17]. Capstone experience may include design projects, internships, co-op experiences, foreign study, community projects, and so forth. Students are also required to spend fifty hours in volunteer service [17]. The purpose of these projects is to promote service learning through participation in community service activities either on campus or in the local community.

Program Management: The UNST program is managed by the dean of University Studies, who reports to the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs [18]. The dean is expected to provide visionary leadership and strategic management to foster excellence in the operations, productivity, and continued improvement of the University Studies program. Leadership and management responsibilities include the following: the administration of instructional programs; grantsmanship and fund raising; budgetary management; faculty development; academic advising; and departmental and college-wide assessments.

The UNST dean is supported by the UNST Faculty Roundtable [12], consisting of two representatives from each school/college, one elected by the school/college faculty and the other appointed by the dean of the school/college (Appendix J). The University Studies Faculty Roundtable document delineates the role of the Faculty Roundtable and its current members. The Faculty Roundtable is the principal academic oversight body for the UNST program. It makes the following recommendations to the dean of UNST:

  • Certification of courses as belonging to the UNST program. It performs this role by evaluating the course descriptions/syllabi against the goals and objectives of the UNST program.
  • Strategies for improving the quality and effectiveness of the UNST program.
  • Actions needed to provide responsiveness to specific requests from the academic schools/colleges.

Advanced Placement Credit: A student entering the university from secondary school may obtain advanced placement and college credit on the basis of performance on the College Entrance Examination Board Advanced Placement examinations [17] A score of three or higher on any CEEB Advanced Placement examination entitles a student to credit for a comparable UNST course. The academic advisor and department chair may recommend AP credit. The final decision on accepting AP course credits as a substitute for one or more UNST courses is made by the dean of the school/college in consultation with the dean of University Studies.

Transfer Credits: All transfer students discuss whether specific courses taken at previous institutions qualify for UNST credit with their A&T academic advisor [17]. The academic advisor and department chair recommend transfer credit equivalencies. The final decision on accepting transfer credits as a substitute for one or more UNST courses is made by the dean of the school/college in consultation with the dean of University Studies.

Supporting Documents

[1] UNST, Policies

[2] Undergraduate Bulletin, 2008-2010, p. 19

[3] UNST, Development

[4] General Education, Core Curriculum Review Committee Report, June 2002

[5] General Education, Committee's Feedback on the External Review Team

[6] General Education, Core Curriculum Review Plan

[7] General Education, Purpose and Guiding Principles

[8] General Education. AAC&U Institute

[9] General Education, Final Team Report, AAC&U General Institute

[10] UNST. Portland State

[11] UNST, Proposed Curriculum Structure, Sept. 15, 2004

[12] UNST, Faculty Roundtable

[13] UNST, Aggie Report, Special Edition, Vol. 6, No. 6, Oct. 22, 2004

[14] General Education, Reform: More Difficult than Moving a Graveyard, Powerpoint

[15] UNST, Pilot Courses Offerings fall 2004

[16] UNST, Foundation Courses

[17] UNST, Preamble, Learning Objectives and Curriculum Structure

[18] UNST, Organizational Structure Program Administration

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 February 2010 10:56 )

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