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General Education Proposal Presented

The new general education proposal includes written English and mathematics competencies as university graduation requirements and eight measurable learning outcomes. It is intended to improve upon the existing liberal studies program, which was described as outdated, complicated and difficult to assess. The committee charged with the task presented its proposal at a recent campus forum to gather final input before submitting it to the Academic Senate for approval.

The English and math competencies—particularly the latter—generated the most discussion, in part because they were not included in earlier models presented for campus feedback. Jill Leonard (Biology) explained the rationale for adding them:

“At the first two forums, we did not have written communication protected. The overwhelming response was, ‘This needs to be put back in; you can’t take out composition courses.’ Another thing we came away with was that transferability is important. The Michigan Transfer Agreement includes a requirement for quantitative analysis, which is defined as a math class. We are the last of our peer institutions that don’t have a math requirement. All community colleges will have it as well. The MTA suggests it’s important and people on campus have been asking about it, so we added that university requirement.”

A few attendees expressed a concern that the proposal diminishes the value of foreign language and the arts. Committee member David Donovan (Physics) said, “We had a mandate of structuring this general education program around 10 courses of at least three credits each.

Students were clear that they didn’t want general education larger because it messes up majors. We had to start making decisions. They may not be ones everyone would make, but we can’t give every department a course, or students wouldn’t graduate.”

There are currently 26 learning outcomes in the liberal studies program. They may be good conceptually, Leonard said, but “there are just too many, they’re complicated and some are phrased in a way that makes it hard to figure out what kind of data you would need in order to assess them.” The committee developed its eight outcomes using best practices from the Higher Learning Commission accrediting body and the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. All NMU students will demonstrate the following:

▪Critical thinking

▪Communication skills that express/convey ideas clearly and effectively

▪Interpretation of quantitative data leading to conclusions

▪Engagement with local or global cultural diversity

▪Integrative thinking by synthesizing disciplinary knowledge and applying the synthesis to new contexts

▪Analysis and evaluation of artistic, literary or rhetorical expression

▪Synthesis and analysis of major social issues

▪Use of scientific processes to investigate and report knowledge about natural or social phenomena

The committee initially developed three potential general education models. It gathered feedback through a series of forums and a survey earlier this year before crafting a single version for Academic Senate consideration. If approved by the senate, provost and NMU Board of Trustees, it could be implemented in fall 2015.