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Community College of Philadelphia


General Education Self-Study Forum Report


Educational Effectiveness
Standard 12
General Education

Janice Borlandoe
Addie Butler
Frank Calabrese
Alexandra Cowley
Jae Fisher
Cynthia Giddle, Co-Chair
Todd Jones
Robert Gorchov
Marian McGorry, Co-Chair
David Prejsnar


  1. What is General Education?
  2. What is General Education at the College?
  3. What reforms have been made in General Education since the last Middle States Study?
  4. What seem to be the results of these reforms?
  5. What should the College do to improve General Education?


  • Study of institutional documents describing the processes of reform and results.
  • Interviews of faculty involved: E. Atkins, K. Bojar, D. Bowers, M. Cohen, A. DiBlasi, Jr., J. Gay, C. Herbert, S. Hirsch, A. Tasch, S. Thompson.
  • Faculty Focus Group: J. Canonica, J. Darken, B. Davis, D. Freedman, C. Love, B. McFadden, D. Perkins.
  • Student Focus Group: PSYC 101 students.
  • Surveys:
    • Middle States surveys of faculty and students.
    • Surveys of Current Graduates and Students.
    • Survey of Department Heads and Curriculum Coordinators.

General Education

As defined by AACU National Panel Report Greater Expectations 2002: "The part of a liberal education curriculum shared by all students. It provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and forms the basis for developing important intellectual and civic capacities. General education can take many different forms."

According to Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Characteristics of Excellence 2002:

Fundamental Elements of General Education

An accredited institution is characterized by:

  • a program of general education of sufficient scope to enhance students' intellectual growth, and equivalent to at least 15 semester hours for associate degree programs;
  • a program of general education where the skills and abilities developed in general education are applied in the major or study in depth;
  • consistent with institutional mission, a program of general education that incorporates study of values, ethics, and diverse perspectives;
  • general education requirements assuring that, upon degree completion, students are proficient in oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, technological capabilities appropriate to the discipline, and information literacy, which includes critical analysis and reasoning;
  • general education requirements clearly and accurately described in official publications of the institution; and
  • assessment of general education outcomes within the institution's overall plan for assessing student learning, and evidence that such assessment results are utilized for curricular improvement.

General Education at Community College of Philadelphia

Catalog Degree Requirements

18-credit degree requirement: Humanities (includes English 101, 102), Social Sciences, Math/Science

American Diversity requirement

Dimensions requirements: never implemented, yet in the College Catalogue since 1998

Initiatives Under Consideration

Recommendations of Dimensions Review Committee (May 2001)

Report of the Task Force on Computer Competency (December 1996)

Oversight of General Education

Department evaluation of courses: e.g., English Department Subcommittee on 101/102

Curriculum Subcommittee of Academic Affairs Committee

Institution-wide Committee

Certification of American Diversity Courses: Coordinator of Curriculum Development

Measures of Assessing General Education

Survey of Current Graduates

Program Audits (Liberal Arts and Culture, Science, Technology Curricula never audited)

Surveys of American Diversity courses (only of Liberal Arts students, only in 1997)

Surveys of course taking patterns (English 101, 102)

General Education Reforms since the last Middle States Self-Study

Dimensions Project

  1. Final Report of the Degree Requirements Task Force (April 1992)
  2. Dimensions Guidelines (September 1994)
  3. Endorsements by Governance Structure (IWC) and Board of Trustees (1994)
  4. Report on Dimensional Requirements (revision of requirements) (October 1998)

Purpose: Developing out of previous curriculum reform projects at the College such as the General Studies initiative and CTW (Critical Thinking and Writing), the Dimensions project attempted to deal with specific academic problems that had been identified by faculty, counselors and institutional research. The main concerns were incoherent course taking patterns by students, avoidance by students of second level classes, and the need to have more writing and critical thinking in classes. While the earlier CTW initiative developed or revised many courses, it did not create a coherent curriculum; therefore, the original Task Force was created to offer a plan for curricular reform.

Process: The original Task Force was succeeded by a Dimensions Steering Committee that created guidelines and a mechanism for certifying courses through Dimensional committees. These initiatives seemed jointly supported by the administration and faculty (accounts differ as to whether the initiatives were more faculty- or administration- driven). There were a number of college-wide conversations--in standing committees, specific Dimensions meetings, and open hearings-of this project. From 1992 to 2001(?), at least 70 faculty participated on dimensional or steering committees.

Results: As of February 2001, 118 courses certified for at least one dimension. No student ever required to meet dimensional requirements to graduate.

Benefits: There was much collegewide discussion of general education: both in large forums and on the Dimensional committees. Many faculty seemed involved and engaged in the project. A number of courses were developed and revised to include writing and other "dimensional" experiences. There was more attention on student learning outcomes and the sequencing of courses to create depth and coherence in coursetaking, for example, in Psychology. With the dimensional structure, there was a basis and goal for discussions of good teaching among faculty across different disciplines. There was a focus on intellectual processes, rather than on course content, in curricular reform.

Concerns: The dimensional requirements were never implemented as described in the Catalog. Explanations include: lack of administrative support, lack of faculty support, insufficient representation of a number of constituencies (student services, students, part-time instructors). Because so much effort was put into a project that was never implemented, faculty are more reluctant to invest time in large curricular initiatives: there is a sense of futility and betrayal.

Reform of General Studies into Liberal Arts and Culture, Science, Technology Curricula

  1. Final Report of the Degree Requirements Task Force (April 1992)
  2. Liberal Arts Curriculum (April 1995)
  3. Culture Science and Technology Curriculum (Fall 1996)

Purpose: The original Task Force determined that the General Studies curriculum lacked coherence and depth. The new curricula were created to offer a balanced general education which was both "directive" and "flexible," stressing critical thinking and writing (an expansion of the earlier CTW program which only designated courses), the use of primary texts and collaborative learning. The Liberal Arts Curriculum was completed first (with two sub-models: Humanities and Social/Behavioral Sciences); the CST Curriculum then grew out of the Liberal Arts Curriculum to become an independent degree cluster.

Process: The Liberal Arts Curriculum grew out of the involvement and participation of a cross-section of faculty from various divisions within the College. Many faculty participated in work groups and committees (these activities date as far back as 1991 but began to acquire more widespread organization within the College in 1993 and 1994). The work groups and committees initially examined four subject areas: concentration electives, discipline requirements, American Diversity requirements, and foreign language requirements. Considerations having to do with Dimensions and American Diversity were present from the beginning and were formulated as the curriculum evolved.

Results: In both curricula (LA and CST) approximately 6000 FTE students were enrolled as of Spring 2002.

Benefits: Although there has never been a formal audit of either curricula, there is a sense among faculty and advisors that these curricula have fulfilled their purpose to some degree: students' coursetaking patterns are more coherent; the requirements of "advanced" and "sequential" courses, as well as "concentrations" of courses have ensured some more depth in coursetaking. Educational values (in writing and diversity and critical thinking) are built into the curricula that were not explicit in the earlier General Studies degree.

Concerns: There is a continuing problem in ensuring that students have sufficient depth in course sequences. There are a number of explanations: 200-level courses without prerequisites, advanced course demands that don't match prerequisites, difficulties of offering advanced courses with enough flexibility to meet student needs (at all regional centers too), need for administrative support to run possibly smaller advanced courses, the variable understanding of the designations "advanced" and "sequential." It is hard to balance the competing purposes of depth in and flexibility of coursetaking. As a result, the advising of students in these curricula is particularly time-consuming and complex. An unexpected result of the CST curriculum is that most students in it are waiting admission to selective Allied Health programs; without an audit, it is hard to evaluate the possible disadvantages of this situation.

American Diversity Requirement

  1. Guidelines for American Diversity Requirement 1996

Purpose: Growing out of the College's mission statement emphasizing students' necessary "appreciation of a diverse world," this requirement seeks to foster student understanding of differences among human cultures and experiences-such as those ascribed to ethnicity, religion and beliefs, cultural norms and values, languages and communication, class, gender, and sexuality-and also of the human commonalities that make communication and community possible.

Process: The requirement, initiated by the College President as an addendum to the Dimensions requirement and approved by IWC, was first developed for the LA curriculum. The Curriculum Facilitation Team developed the guidelines and the Coordinator of Curriculum Development is responsible for certifying American Diversity courses.

Results: 24 courses certified as American Diversity, though no new courses certified since 1999. At least 2 programs certified as meeting American Diversity requirement through "infusion."

Benefits: According to the tabulations of surveys returned by 18 sections of American Diversity courses in Spring 1997, students seem positive about these courses, claiming a more informed and reasoned understanding of cultural ideas and practices different from their own.

Concerns: No courses certified in the last four years. Narrow definition of diversity excluding international concerns. No assurance that faculty teaching diversity apply requirements.

General Observations/Findings

     Based on Fundamental Elements of General Education according to Characteristics of Excellence 2002 on Page 2 of this document, our preliminary findings follow:

  1. While the College does require 18 credits of general education (or the equivalent), there is no collegewide agreement that the current general education requirements are "of sufficient scope to enhance students' intellectual growth." (There is no collegewide certainty of what the general education requirements are.)
  2. There is no measure of whether "the skills and abilities developed in general education are applied in the major or study in depth." Concerns persist about depth in student coursetaking patterns persist. Sequencing/numbering of courses (in relation to prerequisites) varies from department to department.
  3. While the current College general education requirements do "incorporate" diverse perspectives, there is no explicit mention of "values" and "ethics."
  4. The College Catalog has included, since 1998, degree requirements that were never implemented or required for graduation. Our transfer agreements, specifically that with a major transfer institution, Temple, include Dimension requirements that were never implemented.
  5. The Institution has no "overall plan for assessing student learning."
  6. There is no oversight for general education: no faculty group responsible for initiating general education reform and overseeing implementation and necessary faculty development.
  7. Since the disbanding of Dimensions committees, there has been no structured collegewide discussion of any of the listed "proficiencies," except for individual initiatives, such as attempts at collegewide discussions of writing. We have no written collegewide agreements on any of the proficiencies.


     According to Characteristics of Excellence, a general education program should be "developed, owned, and reviewed by the institution's faculty."

     In accordance with the above principle, there should be collegewide discussion of means to oversee and restructure general education. Possibilities include: a Standing Committee (perhaps constituted differently from the current contractual standing committees: with representatives from each Division and certain departments with particular stake in general education), a Faculty Senate with sufficient authority over academic matters, an Office of General Education.