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3.5.1 College-Level Competencies PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2009 13:16

3.5.1 College-Level Competencies

The institution identifies college-level general education competencies and the extent to which graduates have attained them.

Responsible Unit: Division of Academic Affairs

Compliance Judgment



North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) has identified four broad learning goals and seventeen college-level general education competencies for its core curriculum, and collects evidence each semester as to the extent that students have attained them. As a result, a culture of evidence exists that supports a process of continuous improvement in the university’s general education program.

The process of reviewing and revising the core curriculum at A&T began in 2002 and continued through 2005. This time-consuming process was both inclusive and transparent [1]. The vision for the new core curriculum was based on the findings and recommendations from initiatives that included the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) [2], and the Greater Expectations [3] reports. In addition, the learning goals and objectives of the new core curriculum align well with the findings and recommendations in the recently released University of North Carolina Tomorrow Commission Report. [4]

One of the most important parts of the general education revision process was the establishment of seventeen learning objectives for the University Studies (UNST) core curriculum. These learning objectives flow out of the UNST mission [5]. The seventeen learning objectives were initially categorized into eight knowledge areas:


1. Effectively use information technology to find, interpret, evaluate, and use information discerningly. (UNST 110, 120)

2. Effectively communicate in diverse settings and groups using written, oral, and visual means. (UNST 110, 120)

3. Effectively employ critical thinking skills in written and oral communication. (UNST 110)

4. Effectively relate ideas and concepts, as well as modes of inquiry, across disciplines. (UNST 110)

Analytical Reasoning

5. Use analytical thinking skills to evaluate information critically. (UNST 130)

6. Apply multiple modes of inquiry, including quantitative and qualitative analysis, to formulate, describe, evaluate, and solve problems. (UNST 130)

Application of Scientific Method

7. Apply scientific reasoning skills to model natural, physical, social, and aesthetic phenomena using multiple modes of inquiry. (UNST 130)

8. Use a wide range of disparate information and knowledge to draw inferences, test hypotheses, and make decisions. (UNST 130)

Multicultural Relations Within a Global Society

9. Understand African/African American culture and traditions, including political, economic, and social challenges affecting people of African descent. (UNST 140)

10. Interact effectively with people from diverse cultures. (UNST 100)

11. Understand and appreciate the diversity and interrelationship of cultures locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. (UNST 120)

Historical and Social Processes in a Changing World

12. Understand the role of social, political, and economic institutions and processes in the development of societies and the factors that lead to dynamic change in societies over time. (UNST 120)

Artistic and Literary Understanding

13. Understand the role of literature, music, and the fine arts in describing, defining, and celebrating the human condition in diverse world cultures. (UNST 140)

Ethics and Social Responsibility

14. Understand and apply ethical reasoning principles to resolve moral, social, and professional issues. (UNST 100, 140)

15. Understand the role that markets, governments, and other social institutions can play in reducing social and economic inequality. (UNST 140)

Health, Lifestyles, and Behavior

16. Understand and promote principles of wellness that include nutrition, exercise, avoidance of mind-altering chemicals, development of healthy relationships and personal growth. (UNST 100)

17. Recognize behaviors that place individuals, families and communities at risk. (UNST 100)

The eight categories were eventually condensed to five categories: effective written and oral communication of ideas; broad-based critical thinking; analytical reasoning, commitment to ongoing civic engagement and social responsibility, and appreciation for diverse world cultures.

To achieve the learning objectives, the UNST program consists of a minimum of thirty-seven credit hours of course work and an additional fifty hours of service/experiential learning. Students entering the university as freshmen are required to take all five of the foundation courses (UNST 100, UNST 110, UNST 120, UNST 130, and UNST 140) as a part of their first thirty-two credit hours of study at A&T. After students have successfully completed the UNST foundation courses they can begin taking twelve hours in a theme-based cluster. Taken as a whole, the thematic clusters emphasize the five broad UNST knowledge areas and model the interdisciplinary nature of learning by examining a common theme through different disciplinary and interdisciplinary lenses. In addition, students are allotted nine credit hours of major-specified courses “that support University Studies learning objectives.” Only after all of these requirements have been successfully completed may students begin their senior capstone experience.

The Foundation Courses: Beginning in the fall of 2006, the University Studies began implementing A&T’s interdisciplinary core curriculum. This process began with the five foundation courses, taken by all incoming freshmen. All incoming freshmen students are required to take basic math and writing proficiency assessments. Those students who are found to need developmental help in these areas are required to pass Math 099 before taking UNST 130 Analytical Reasoning and UNST 103 Basic Writing before taking UNST 110 Critical Writing. Each of these courses, as directed by the UNST founding documents, is charged with student learning assessment for specific learning objectives (listed above). The learning objectives are published on the UNST website, course syllabi, and in the UNST annual report.

Each foundation course utilizes common syllabi, common texts and assignments, and common formative and summative assessments. Student learning assessment data are reported by all UNST faculty to the dean of University Studies, where it is compiled and communicated to the university community in the form of annual reports and the UNST Evaluation Plan [6] [7].

UNST 100 University Experience (1 credit): UNST 100 emphasizes the role of the University Studies program and presents a broad overview of the curriculum structure and rationale, including an introduction to a variety of interdisciplinary themes within the UNST program. Introductory discussions on ethics, wellness and healthy lifestyles, diversity, and civic engagement are included as are the proper use of study skills. UNST Learning Objectives: 10, 14, 16, 17.

According to the UNST 2006-2007 Annual Report, [6] there was a general lack of uniformity in the way the University Experience course was delivered and assessed in its first year of existence. As a result, in 2007-2008 a common text, syllabus, course outline, assignments, and formative and summative assessments were added. In addition, having found that students were not receiving adequate preparation in academic “survival skills,” the deans’ council recommended that UNST 100 take on this responsibility. Changes such as these coming in a one-credit hour course required a shift in the course’s focus. Therefore, beginning with the fall 2008 semester, learning objective ten was transferred to UNST 120 and learning objective fourteen became the sole responsibility of UNST 140. Learning objective one was added to UNST 100.

Student learning assessment in UNST 100 is based on a student survey [8] and course-embedded assessment [9] [10]. In the fall of 2007, the overall mean for survey questions relating to learning objectives fourteen, sixteen and seventeen was 3.07 (on a 4-point Likert Scale) while the success rate for twenty-seven final exam questions relating to these learning objectives was 77.30% (n=514). In addition, students reported they had become better prepared for academic success (Mean=3.04); better managers of their time (3.13); more effective note takers (2.80); more likely to participate in their classes (2.93); understood better how to prepare for examinations (3.03); had a better understanding of critical thinking (2.94); and had become better at library research (2.85). Students were successful 72% of the time when answering eighteen questions relating to academic survival skills. Finally, based upon five final embedded exam questions, student successfully identified various aspects of the UNST curriculum 90.8% of the time.

These results support the conclusion that students understood basic academic survival skills, the UNST curriculum, many aspects of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, and ways that individuals, families, and communities can be put at risk.

Evidence of Continuous Improvement: A pre- and post-test, value-added assessment instrument was developed during the spring 2008 semester. This instrument will be administered each semester and will be added to the assessment strategies already in place for UNST 100. In addition, the course text and syllabus have been modified and course content shifted around so that students will learn the academic survival skills earlier in the semester.

UNST 110 Critical Writing (3 credits): UNST 110, Critical Writing, introduces students to the basics of critical thinking and communication. As such, students work on reading comprehension, thinking and writing processes, analysis, and other basic academic skills adaptable to multiple disciplines and necessary for their success in their major courses and beyond. Over the course of the semester, students learn to find, evaluate, and use appropriate learning resources; to demonstrate effective verbal and written communication skills; to develop habits of self-assessment; to work collaboratively in teams and small groups; and to use interdisciplinary content knowledge and intellectual skills to become lifelong learners. UNST Learning Objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Course assessment includes a formative value-added pre- and post-test approach that utilizes Criterion, the ETS Web-based writing assessment tool; an in-house pre- and post-tests using multiple choice assessment of critical thinking, writing, and reading; and a series of common course-embedded assessment assignments that are evaluated using common rubrics.

All incoming freshmen take the Criterion online assessment during orientation. Based on their scores, students are assigned to UNST 103 or UNST 110. Students scoring a three or higher on the Criterion writing assessment tool re enrolled in UNST 110 Critical Writing. Students are again administered the Criterion assessment after having taken the course. According to the Criterion assessment from the fall 2007 semester, student writing improved overall. n addition, based on a sample of 147 students from the fall 2007 semester, it was concluded that there was a small overall improvement in student writing (learning objective two) that was highly statistically significant (p.001). It was also noted that “a significant group of students improved their writing by 1, 2, & 3 grades as measured by Criterion” [11].

The assessment of the critical thinking and writing sections of the UNST 110 pre- and post-tests was based on multiple choice questions, while the section on critical reading evaluated students on their ability to read and interpret a written paragraph and an image using a number of rhetorical strategies. The critical thinking and writing sections both realized significant increases in correct scores of +.46 and +.98, respectively. However, the critical reading section average decreased by .29. See the UNST 2007-2008 Annual Report (pp. 38-39) for an explanation of the results [12].

UNST 110 course-embedded assessment assignments help students gain competency at each of the four UNST learning objectives [13] [14]. Common rubrics are used to evaluate students, allowing for assessment of student learning across sections for each skill [15]. According to results based on student grades, most students completed these assignments successfully [16].

The depth and redundancy of the assessment for this course support the conclusion that students achieved the learning objectives for the course.

Evidence of Continuous Improvement: The UNST 110 faculty team will be introducing an additional course module on basic reading comprehension for the fall 2008 semester, is instituting an assessment committee which will write a policy handbook that will serve as a faculty guide to assessment, and is completing a major revision process to rubrics for all major summative and course-embedded assessments. Each rubric will include a student self-assessment for self and peer review.

UNST 120 The Contemporary World (3 credits): UNST 120 examines the social, economic, political, and cultural roots of the contemporary world. Close attention to concepts and categories will allow students to grasp the nature and development of the contemporary world, thus providing them with a framework to understand the global experience in our times. UNST Learning Objectives: 1, 2, 11, 12.

The pre- and post-test for this course showed a considerable level of growth for learning objectives one, eleven, and twelve. Students had a 113% and 92% overall positive change in the fall 2007 and spring 2008 semesters, respectively [17]. In both cases, the difference between the pre- and post-test data varied from as little as 26% to a maximum of 1380% and was highly statistically significant (p.001).

Because the main text for UNST 120 was a reader that offered opposing arguments on a number of pressing contemporary international issues, students received regular practice working on learning objectives one and two. As such, students needed to be able to identify an author’s argument to respond to daily electronic response system questions, weekly formative and summative quizzes, and monthly unit exams. Based on a sample of sixty-five student essay papers evaluated with a common rubric, 62% successfully identified all the authors’ arguments, 92% could identify at least one author’s argument, 98% were able to identify at least one piece of supporting evidence, and 51% were able to create their own reasoned and supported argument [18]. These levels of achievement suggest that students learned the desired outcomes for the course.

Evidence of Continuous Improvement: In the fall 2008 semester, the UNST 120 faculty team implemented a number of new assignments that address various aspects of learning objective two more directly. One important part of this will occur when at least four sections of the course will pilot the global modules project partnering UNST 120 classes with students at seven universities from around the globe.

UNST 130 Analytical Reasoning (3 credits): UNST 130 helps students develop scientific, quantitative, and logical reasoning skills. As such, students will consider concepts from logic and the scientific disciplines, including life, social, and physical sciences. In addition, the scientific method and a variety of analytical approaches are explored. To date, the course has been team-taught, combining faculty with a philosophy/liberal arts background and those with a science/quantitative background. UNST Learning Objectives: 5, 6, 7, 8.

In UNST 130, summative and formative assessments evaluate student performance on specific analytical, logical, scientific, and quantitative reasoning skills [19]. In-class, the course utilizes common daily formative assessment questions with electronic response system devices [20]. Assessment of student work outside of class is performed with the Cengage system [21], which provides students and faculty with immediate feedback on student homework problem sets. In addition, student learning assessment for the learning objectives took the form of a formative value-added, pre- and post-test and course-embedded assessment. In both semesters, student learning gains in all three content areas were realized and were highly statistically significant (p<.001). Positive change on the posttest results measured from a low of 16% to a high of 81% with comprehensive average increases of 48% and 46% for the fall and spring semesters, respectively [22]. The levels of achievement in this course suggest that students learned the desired outcomes.

Evidence of Continuous Improvement: From a student perspective, this is a very challenging course. Intensive efforts have been made in the course to improve student learning—the abundance of student learning assessment data have been critically important to this process. Changes have been many, but the most important one will come with smaller class sizes. The 2008-2009 academic year students will benefit from the addition of four new full-time faculty lines that promise to cut the section enrollments roughly in half. In an effort to increase student engagement and skill retention, problem-based learning exercises will also be introduced into the course for the 2008-2009 year.

UNST 140 The African American Experience: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (3 credits): UNST 140 is an interdisciplinary course that introduces students to the important contributions made and challenges faced by people of African descent in America and the global community. The course focuses on oral, written, and visual means of expression as a basis for discussion, analysis, and debate. UNST Learning Objectives: 9, 13, 14, 15.

Student learning assessment data for UNST 140 took the form of value-added tests [23]. The content of the pre- and post-tests was based on UNST learning objectives nine, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen. Overall, increases of 5% for the fall 2007 and 6% for the spring 2008 were termed “extremely modest" by the UNST dean. However, the increase in the mean post-test scores were found to be highly statistically significant (p<.0001) [24].

In addition, according to the Assessment and Evaluation of the Fall 2006 Freshmen Cohort Report written by MGT of America, Inc., UNST 140 had a 58% failure rate--among the highest at the university [25]. The evidence does not support the contention that students achieved the desired learning objectives for this course.

Evidence of Continuous Improvement: Student learning assessment methods and instruments for this course are being revised for the fall 2008 semester.

Theme-based Course Clusters: The second tier in the core curriculum consists of theme-based clusters [26] designed to provide upper-class students with an additional interdisciplinary experience that connects the core curriculum to work in the major. Courses in the clusters are designed to provide an overall interdisciplinary experience (rather than one within each course). Therefore, many of the cluster courses are, in practice, disciplinary courses. Before each course has been approved for inclusion in a cluster it must be judged to have met at least two of the five broad UNST learning objectives (broad-based critical thinking skills; effective written and oral communication of ideas; appreciation for diverse cultures; commitment to ongoing civic engagement and social responsibility) and include an assessment plan. Courses within UNST are assessed according to their stated UNST learning objectives [27].

Five theme-based clusters are available. The need for an assessment plan evaluating the effectiveness of the clusters in demonstrating interdisciplinarity and the five broad UNST learning goals has been recognized and is being developed at this time [28] As such, the dean of UNST and its UNST Faculty Roundtable has established this as their top priority for the 2008-2009 academic year. Data have been collected to analyze demand for courses and clusters as well as the learning objectives that students are being exposed to by individual clusters. Plans to assess the experience of individual students via random sampling are being discussed.

Service Learning: Beginning with the 2006-2007 academic year, all freshman students entering A&T were required to perform fifty hours of service or experiential learning that is to be completed before students begin their senior capstone experience. Service learning provides students with the opportunity to practice civic engagement and social responsibility in a real-world setting. It also demonstrates what it means to be lifelong learners and connects the history of A&T with its students today. The service learning component addresses the broad learning goal of “commitment to ongoing civic engagement and social responsibility” and the specific UNST learning objectives ten and seventeen. Student Affairs monitors the volunteer hours, while UNST faculty shall keep track of the academic component of the service [29]. At this time, the Divisions of Student Affairs and UNST are continuing to develop an assessment plan for this part of the general education curriculum.

Senior Capstone Experience: Senior capstone courses are major-specified and as such vary. However, they all seem to fall into one of the following categories: senior projects, independent study, senior seminars, internships, or student teaching. The senior capstone experience was designed to bring together the expertise acquired in the major with the four broad UNST learning goals to demonstrate how these skills will be applied in further academic or professional work. At this time, creation of the overall assessment plan for the capstone experiences is continuing in preparation for the first group of eligible students in 2010. Discussions have centered on senior surveys, exit examinations such as the ones developed by ACT, and employer and graduate surveys. Also, any assessment plan under consideration for the capstone experience would necessarily involve the use of some of the course-embedded assessment strategies already utilized by most UNST courses. Here, common rubrics designed along the lines of those already in use in the foundation courses could be utilized to provide evidence of how A&T students have changed beyond their first and second year at the university.

Transfer Students: The University of North Carolina General Administration has developed a set of tables that establish general education equivalencies for each community college in the system. The information is very specific and is governed by the formal comprehensive articulation agreement for general education courses. The tables are published and accessible on the Internet [30].

Students who transfer general education credits into A&T from outside the University of North Carolina community college system have their transcripts reviewed by the dean of UNST to decide which courses have comparable skills and content to UNST-required courses. In those cases where the dean decides that there are no courses that are acceptable, the student is required to take the necessary UNST courses.

Institutional Assessment: In addition to internal course data on student learning, A&T participated in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education for the 2007-2008 academic year and beyond. This longitudinal study involves collecting data from a number of national surveys like the National Survey of Student Engagement as well as some national outcomes assessment benchmark instruments. According to the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College (www.liberal arts.wabash.edu), the study “focuses on understanding the conditions and practices that promote the development of seven liberal arts outcomes” for a number of areas that relate to the UNST learning objectives: effective reasoning and problem solving, inclination to inquire and lifelong learning, intercultural effectiveness, leadership, moral reasoning, and well-being.

The first set of assessments was administered early in the fall 2007 semester when 700+ A&T first-year students participated. These same students were contacted at the end of the spring semester to take the set of assessments again and will be contacted in their senior year for the final round of data collection for this cohort. This kind of outside analysis of student learning should prove invaluable to the university community. The initial results will be available in the fall 2008 semester.


  • Foundation course syllabi have too many course objectives. This may make it more difficult to achieve the learning objectives that were initially designed for the courses by the university community. Course work and assignments should directly relate to the course objectives.
  • Assessment of course objectives is uneven. While some learning objectives are extensively assessed, others are less so.
  • Close the loop. Report student learning assessment data in an accessible form so that the entire university community–especially students–can be a part of the continuous improvement process.
  • Greater redundancy in student learning assessment methods need to be considered for courses that are relying on a single assessment strategy.
  • Assessment plans for theme-based clusters, service/experiential learning, and the senior capstone experience need to be completed immediately. The university will also need to create structures that allow for reporting of this data to UNST and the university community at large. These are both top priorities.
  • Outside institutional assessment instruments such as the ones conducted by the Wabash Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts should be continued.

Supporting Documents

[1] UNST, Meeting Minutes

[2] Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP)

[3] Greater Expectations

[4] UNC Tomorrow, Commission Report

[5] UNST, Mission

[6] UNST, Annual Report 2006 – 2007

[7] UNST, Evaluation Plan [8] Student Survey

[9] Course-Embedded Assessment

[10] Course-Embedded Assessment - Mean

[11] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Criterion

[12] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, pp. 38-39

[13] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, UNST 110 Course-Embedded Assessment

[14] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, 4 Learning Objectives

[15] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Assessment of Student Learning for Each Skill

[16] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Students Completed Assignments Successfully

[17] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Learning Objectives Growth 07-08

[18] UNST 120 Main Text, Student Arguments

[19] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, UNST 130 Summative and Formative Assessments

[20] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Electronic Response System Devices

[21] Cengage System, Feedback

[22] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Post-Test Results - Positive Change

[23] UNST 140, Value-Added Tests

[24] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Mean Post-Test Scores

[25] Assessment and Evaluation of the Fall 2006 Freshmen Cohort / MGT of America, Inc.

[26] UNST, Annual Report 2007 – 2008, Theme Based Course Clusters

[27] Assessment Report

[28] UNST, Evaluation Plan, 4 Broad UNST Learning Goals

[29] UNST, Evaluation Plan, Monitoring Volunteer Hours

[30] North Carolina Community College System General Education Core Courses and North Carolina A&T State University Equivalent Courses

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Last Updated ( Monday, 12 October 2009 07:18 )

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