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3.6.2 Graduate Curriculum PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 06:16

3.6.2 Graduate Curriculum

The institution structures its graduate curricula (1) to include knowledge of the literature of the discipline and (2) to ensure ongoing student engagement in research and/or appropriate professional practice and training experiences.

Responsible Unit: Graduate Studies

Compliance Judgment



The graduate curriculum for the academic degree programs at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) is structured to provide graduate students with fundamental and well-rounded knowledge of their specific discipline. The student and faculty also share in research exploration and inquiry. A&T utilizes a series of formal internal and external reviews of all graduate programs to ensure the appropriateness of the curriculum and the research and training experiences as well as to ensure their consistency with established academic standards. Additionally, each of the graduate programs undergoes an annual program assessment, which ensures that students are achieving the knowledge, skills, and values that the graduate faculty has determined are appropriate learning objectives for the program. Finally, graduate students are required to demonstrate mastery of the discipline by a variety of different means, such as required course work, research projects, qualifying exams, theses, and dissertations.

A&T's graduate programs are housed in four schools and two colleges: the School of Agriculturef & Environmental Sciences, the School of Business & Economics, the School of Education, and the School of Technology, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the College of Engineering [1]. The School of Graduate Studies is the administrative unit for the programs. The university is currently authorized to offer fifty-eight master's degrees, and eight doctoral degrees [2].

To document that A&T's master's and doctoral degree programs foster independent learning, the School of Graduate Studies surveyed the graduate programs, requesting copies of course syllabi for all 600 level and above courses offered at the university. During the summer 2008, 139 of the 147 course syllabi were submitted to the School of Graduate Studies. Each syllabus was reviewed by faculty in the School of Education. A course syllabus evaluation rubric was developed to identify courses that were fostering independent learning and enabling the graduate to contribute to a profession or field of study as required by SACS principle 3.6.2, Graduate Curriculum, and those that were not [3]. A rubric was also developed to identify course syllabi that were exemplary in demonstrating progressive advancement in academic content [4], [5]. To facilitate writing course objectives, course syllabi identified as exemplary were used to develop a template that follows a standardized format with clearly stated measurable learning objectives for all courses. Learning objectives will be based on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (i.e., synthesize, explain, differentiate, judge...). The template is under review by the Faculty Senate and will be made available to the faculty after the approval process [6].

To confirm that current and accurate information was available, a questionnaire was distributed to all academic department chairpersons [7]. It asked chairs to address three essential concerns related to graduate degree programs:

  • Describe how the master's and/or doctoral degree program(s) and curriculum(s) are assessed. Explain the process utilized to make the necessary changes.
  • What does the graduate program do to foster independent learning?
  • How does the program enable your graduates to contribute to a profession or field of study?

The results of the survey of department chairs found that a variety of methods are used to assess the graduate degree programs in the various departments. Most departments used self study, five-year assessment, and annual reports to evaluate their programs. A smaller number used internal advisory boards and alumni surveys for this purpose [8] and [9]. The majority of the departments with graduate degree programs indicated that changes are implemented after consultation with the departmental faculty and graduate students. Then the agreed-upon changes are forwarded to the appropriate university body (the Faculty Senate or the Graduate Council) [10] and [11].

When asked "What does your program do to foster independent learning?" the responses were varied. They ranged from students are given term papers to students are given examinations that have business cases, mini cases and essay questions that require students to extend the learning and thinking they acquired in the classroom. Students are active research investigators with an expectation that they will utilize literature resources related to assigned projects. Students participate in independent research projects from which they present research seminars to fulfill requirements for graduation. Some degree programs require individual portfolios, individual master's projects, scientific papers, and case study activities. Additionally, some degree programs have thesis or dissertation requirements. For a complete listing of responses to this question, see documentation [12]. Moreover, graduate course syllabi include activities that foster independent learning; examples are attached [13].

When responding to the question "How does your program enable your graduates to contribute to a profession or field of study?" most chairpersons mentioned at some point the involvement of graduate students in professional meetings that are in their professional field of study. One department chairperson wrote, "Students are encouraged to present research at professional meetings; many of our students are engaged in joint research projects with faculty and get opportunities to present research from those projects with funding provided" [14].


Assessment of Programs: A&T has a comprehensive process of program assessment that ensures that expected outcomes are clearly defined and measurable and are used for improving education. Each academic degree program's curriculum is assessed every five years. The associate vice chancellor for academic affairs meets with department chairs to review the assessment and strategic planning process. Strategic plans must be updated or developed by a specified timeline, using the Strategic Plan Outline. The associate vice chancellor reviews the strategic plan and provides feedback on the program goals, objectives and strategies. In addition, the associate vice chancellor conducts departmental faculty workshops on developing student learning outcomes, using the Alabama A&M University PowerPoint and the Five-Year Assessment Outline [15]. Department chairpersons are also provided Forms A-D with instructions and examples to help guide them through the assessment process [16] and [17]. These comprehensive reports are reviewed during the fall semester and written critiques provided using the review and critique form.

As deemed appropriate by department chairs and their faculties, periodic assessments may be made that are not within the five-year assessment schedule.

Graduation Requirements: Each student's program is planned with an advisory committee of graduate faculty members to provide the opportunity for gaining advanced knowledge in the particular field of study. The graduate advisory committee is appointed by the coordinator of the graduate programs in the student's department or program. Emphasis is placed on the student's scholarly development through formal course work, seminars, research, independent investigation, exams, projects, theses, and dissertations. These requirements involve multiple faculty members evaluating a student's success. Students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better at the end of each academic year.

The doctorate symbolizes the ability of the recipient to undertake original research and scholarly work at the highest levels without supervision. This degree is, therefore, not granted simply upon completion of a stated amount of course work but rather upon demonstration by the student of a comprehensive knowledge and high attainment in scholarship in a specialized field of study. The student must demonstrate this ability by writing a dissertation, reporting the results of an original investigation, and by passing a series of comprehensive examinations in the field of specialization.

The qualifying exam is a written examination that is required of all PhD students. The qualifying examination must be passed prior to the end of the student's third semester enrolled in the PhD degree program. Details are listed in the department's graduate program handbook.

Students enrolled in a master's degree program or a doctoral degree program may be tested by a comprehensive examination to determine the student's knowledge and skills in the general subject matter concentration. Students may only take the comprehensive examination twice. After the second failure, the student must petition the coordinator of the graduate programs and the dean of the School of Graduate Studies for approval to take the exam a third time. If the student is unsuccessful after the third attempt, the student is dismissed from the graduate program.

The master's degree program requires that a candidate pass a comprehensive oral examination to demonstrate to the advisory committee that he/she possesses a reasonable mastery of the subject matter of the major and supporting fields and that this knowledge can be used with promptness and accuracy. A unanimous vote of approval by the advisory committee is required to pass the oral examination. Failure to pass the oral examination terminates the student's graduate work at A&T, unless the graduate advisory committee unanimously recommends a reexamination. Only one reexamination will be given. A student may appeal all committee actions by written application to the dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

Each department has a graduate program handbook for its specific program area [18]. This handbook details all the graduation requirements for the specific program. Graduate students are expected to familiarize themselves with the requirements for the degree for which they are candidates and are held responsible for the fulfillment of these requirements.

Supporting Documents

[1] Graduate Catalog, p.7

[2] Graduate Catalog, pp.36-45

[3] Graduate Studies, Rubric Evaluation, p. 11

[4] Graduate Studies, Exemplary Model Rubric, p. 11

[5] SACS Principles, Report by Dr. Tyra Whittaker

[6] Graduate Studies, Course Syllabus Template

[7] Graduate Studies, Degree Program Questionnaire

[8] Graduates Studies, Master's Degree Program Questionnaire Results

[9] Graduates Studies, Doctoral Degree Program Questionnaire Results

[10] Graduates Studies, Process Used to Make Program and Curriculum Changes

[11] Graduates Studies Process Used to Make Program and Curriculum Changes

[12] Graduate Studies, Ways Programs Foster Independent Learning

[13] Graduates Studies, Exemplary Graduate Course Syllabus

[14] Graduates Studies, Field of Study

[15] Five Year Assessment, Outline

[16] Graduates Studies, Instructions for Forms A-D

[17] Graduates Studies, Example of Completed Forms A-D

[18] Graduate Catalog

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Last Updated ( Monday, 16 November 2009 10:54 )

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