General education quality assurance focus of board strategic discussions

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Arizona’s public universities are known for excellence, delivering rigorous courses that ensure degrees retain their value and stand the test of time.

As part of the Arizona Board of Regents’ fiduciary role, we are analyzing the essential elements and quality of general education courses at our universities and how the curriculum contributes to the knowledge and skills of undergraduates. These are the liberal arts and sciences courses all undergraduate students are required to take outside of their major in order to graduate, typically encompassing about one-quarter to a third of undergraduate education.

Part of a five-part series of discussions at the board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee, the regents have discussed in-depth general education and outcomes; assessment of general education courses and programs; transfer and general education quality assurance; general education quality and innovation; and wrap-up and next steps.   

Far from simple or routine, this introductory coursework lays the foundation for later success in both the classroom and workplace. According to a 2013 report by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent of employers agree all students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences; 75 percent want universities to place more emphasis on critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge. These are the very skills attained via these general education courses.

Given the importance of these classes, the board seeks to improve the way success is measured in the classroom to help ensure students continue to receive the critical skills they need.

Assessing quality is not a simple task; this is a large-scale undertaking that involves the universities - from provosts to professors. Through the board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee meetings, the focus on quality includes reviews that highlight how the universities achieve continuous improvement, an academic framework submitted by the universities that outlines quality elements, quality markers and assessments at the institutions, and an improved business process for new academic program requests.

Key components of the initiative include measuring courses against national trends, matching employment criteria and utilizing testing that allows for comparative assessments of student learning across institutions. Transfer student experiences are also assessed to improve the transfer process from the community colleges to the universities.

To ensure continued focus on quality assessment, the board recently incorporated quality markers into its updated 2025 strategic plan. These comprehensive markers cover aspects such as: student, faculty, business and public feedback; competitiveness and rankings of select programs; peer comparisons; Arizona college-going rate; student success in winning national awards and fellowships; and members of national level academies and societies.

As the board concludes the review series, regents are continuing to focus on implementing outcomes as well as determining how undergraduate teaching and the research mission are integrated for the benefit of students.

This overarching strategic groundwork with an emphasis on quality gauges our universities’ progress against goals set by the board. Most of all, it maintains focus on the core mission of our enterprise – students and their success.