Physics to finance, Japanese to journalism, whatever the major, all roads to a bachelor’s degree pass through general education—the courses that comprise most of the first two years of every student’s college instruction.
Because that makes general education the only program all graduates complete, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steven R. Angle declared that general education must be one of the strongest and most meaningful programs offered by UTC.
“Can our general education program be an exhilarating and even more meaningful part of the UTC experience? Yes, it can, and we will do it,” Angle said during his 2020 State of the University address. A few weeks later, UTC Provost Jerold Hale assembled a committee charged with “Reimagining General Education,” led by Vice Provost Lauren Ingraham, who was then director of general education.
“Historically at UTC, we take a good look at gen ed about once a decade and, since our current program was implemented fall 2014, we’re a little ahead of the curve,” Ingraham said. “We got seriously to work in January 2021, charged with exploring possible models and best practices, listening to key stakeholders and proposing a final design to submit to appropriate faculty governance processes. The goal was to propose this design in the spring 2022 semester for fall 2023 implementation, if adopted.”
The committee hit its target, with faculty voting to approve the proposal in May, followed by the chancellor’s approval. Now, academic departments can begin identifying courses to offer through the general education program starting in fall semester 2023.
Courses will fall into these six disciplines and credit hour requirements for a total of 40-41 hours completed:
- Writing and communications (6 hours)
- Humanities and fine arts (12 hours)
- Natural sciences (7-8 hours)
- Behavioral and social sciences (6 hours)
- Quantitative reasoning (6 hours)
- Individual and global citizenship (3 hours)
While 92% of general education-certified courses are out of the College of Arts and Sciences, Ingraham said the “reimagining” committee hopes “other colleges will think about ways to be involved in some of these categories.”
“Individual and global citizenship—that’s about understanding we all have our individual perspectives and have to learn to get along with those of different perspectives,” Ingraham said. “How do you think about that on a local, national, global level? I could see that happening from lots of different areas.”
The new framework does not mandate courses from a particular discipline—there’s no required “English course” category, for instance. Inadvertent barriers, such as required subcategories of courses within humanities and fine arts, have been removed toward a process that is the “least-onerous” possible for students to make timely progress toward graduation.
The changes also will remove some financial aid barriers in some cases. For example, financial aid funding rules typically restrict course selection to only those that satisfy requirements for a student’s general education program, major, minor or graduation. The new framework will give more flexibility and choice to students in satisfying general education requirements within financial aid restrictions, Ingraham said.
“One example is in foreign language study. Currently, a B.A. has a foreign language requirement, but a B.S. doesn’t. For students who receive financial aid and would like to study another language but are in a B.S. program, financial aid won’t cover that, even though employers love foreign language exposure in job candidates,” Ingraham said. “Now, we will have some language courses certified in gen ed and students will be able to take those if they want to and be covered by financial aid.”
Behavioral and social science requirements, which currently mandate taking two courses from different disciplines, will be relaxed—encouraging but not requiring different disciplines. This should resolve an issue some students previously encountered upon changing majors and discovering a different set of general education prerequisites for other majors.
“Students will work with their advisors on their individual circumstances,” Ingraham said, “and it’s a nod toward giving students a little more agency over the choices they make in gen ed.”
Beyond moving past a “something that you get through” kind of general education experience, Ingraham said the updated approach also has “four very clear, very measurable program-level outcomes.”
The approved, program-level student learning outcomes to be achieved upon completion of the general education program are:
- Communicate effectively according to purpose using written, oral and/or audio-visual methods.
- Critique and evaluate information, concepts, theories and claims.
- Cultivate inclusion by recognizing, examining and reflecting on the diversity of cultural and individual experiences.
- Create, innovate and adapt to take charge of your own learning.
What makes these skills so valuable—along with general education overall?
Citing an August 2019 report published in Inside Higher Ed that found only 27% of college graduates end up working in their major fields of study, Ingraham said, “These skills and this knowledge have to be transferable to be relevant in different fields and practice. To enable you to adapt and pivot. To take advantage of the opportunities you didn’t see coming.”