Higher Learning Commission

A Comprehensive Review and Revision of Lake Forest College’s General Education and Graduation Requirements

Lake Forest College

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Lake Forest College is in the early stages of a comprehensive review and revision of its general education and graduation requirements. This initiative will comprise a major effort by the institution to improve the quality of the undergraduate learning experience at the College. The current General Education Curriculum (GEC) dates back to 1993-94 and has remained essentially unchanged since then. Between 2007 and 2010, the institution engaged in an effort to revise the GEC but the resulting proposal failed to gain sufficient support among the faculty to be adopted. Since then, the College has engaged in a strategic planning process that has identified the revision of general education as one of the College’s top institutional priorities. The College’s strategic plan, “Planning Priorities for Lake Forest College 2013-2018,” argues that the College’s general education curriculum should be revised in order to (a) incorporate the higher-level skills expressed in the College’s Mission Statement (“to read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and, above all, to think for themselves”) more rigorously into the College’s graduation requirements; (b) to establish specific learning objectives for each component of the GEC; and (c) to consider including a requirement that all students engage in high-impact experiential learning.

The College has now launched an initiative to review and revise general education and graduation requirements and we expect that this initiative will extend beyond the Quality Initiative period (2014-2016). During the period of the Quality Initiative, we plan to complete two major steps in the process. The academic year 2014-15 will be devoted to developing an overarching conceptual framework for a revised general education program and articulating broad learning goals and outcomes. We expect to complete this phase of the project by May 2015. Following faculty approval of the conceptual framework and learning goals and outcomes, either our Curricular Policies Committee or a new task force will be appointed to oversee the development of the specific curricular, co-curricular and assessment components of the new general education program. We anticipate that this phase of work will be completed by the end of the Quality Initiative period (i.e., by the end of the 2015-16 academic year). In 2016-17, we will begin implementation of the new general education requirements, which may require academic departments to revise their curricula and the College to support a variety of faculty development activities.

As a result of this initiative, we expect to establish a revised general education program based on a shared understanding of the skills, knowledge and competencies that every Lake Forest student should be expected to acquire by the time of their graduation. The new requirements will better prepare our students for rewarding post-graduate lives and careers and ensure that they are ready to contribute to an increasingly diverse and global society. Establishing clearly defined learning goals and outcomes for general education will improve student learning and increase the academic quality of the program. Finally, we expect that this quality initiative will revitalize institutional commitment to our general education program and establish a more distinctive identity for our curriculum and the College.

Relevance and Significance

Our current GEC is based on a traditional menu-driven distribution model and requires students to complete three components: (a) First-Year Studies (a first-year seminar that includes a writing requirement); (b) the GEC Breadth Requirement: two courses in each of the three divisions of the College (humanities, social sciences, and natural and mathematical sciences) and two courses designated as fulfilling the cultural diversity requirement; and (c) a Senior capstone experience in a student’s major. The GEC has been in place since 1993-94 and there is increasing dissatisfaction with it. Although the GEC was originally conceived as a developmental program (beginning with First-Year Studies and culminating with a senior capstone), it is generally not viewed as a coherent program. Rather, the GEC is seen as a collection of unrelated individual courses that students must “check off” in order to graduate. Compounding matters, the current GEC lacks clearly defined learning outcomes, a structured developmental pathway based on acquiring skills or competencies, and an explicit connection to the College’s mission statement. Many students and parents question the rationale for the current GEC and do not consider it to be professionally relevant. Consequently, an institution-level review of our general education program and graduation requirements is much needed.

It is timely for the College to engage in this work now. In response to growing concerns about the GEC a decade ago, the College’s Curricular Policies Committee appointed a Task Force to conduct an extensive review of the GEC and, if deemed appropriate, to develop a proposal for a new and revised GEC. The Task Force was constituted during the fall of 2006 and began its work in spring 2007 and worked diligently for the next two years. Its work culminated in a comprehensive reform proposal that was submitted to the Curricular Policies Committee in November 2009. After review by the Curricular Policies Committee and receiving additional input from the faculty, the proposal was substantially revised and presented for faculty approval at the April 2010 faculty meeting. However, following an extended debate on the floor of the meeting, a majority of the faculty voted against the motion. Chief among the concerns cited were worries that the new GEC would impose an unmanageable burden on faculty advisors and that the assessment plan, which relied upon the adoption of electronic portfolios, was cumbersome and would be overly time consuming to administer. Following the rejection of the proposal, the Curricular Policies Committee devoted time during the following semester to see if a revised GEC proposal that might achieve faculty approval could be salvaged from the original motion. However, after consulting with academic department chairs and inviting the campus at large to submit comments and suggestions, the Curricular Policies Committee decided not to bring a revised proposal to the faculty during the 2010-11 academic year. At the end of the year, a new Dean of the Faculty was appointed from outside the institution and the decision was made to postpone further consideration of the GEC until the College had completed a new five-year strategic plan.

The strategic planning process was initiated in May 2012 and concluded approximately 18 months later in October 2013 with the adoption by the Board of Trustees of a new five-year strategic plan, “Planning Priorities for Lake Forest College 2013-2018.” The College’s strategic plan reaffirms the College’s commitment to its stated mission “to encourage students to read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and, above all, to think for themselves,” and argues that:

In many important ways, the public’s skepticism about the relevance of liberal arts education for employment is misplaced. Time and again, surveys of employers reveal that the skills that employers value most highly are closely aligned with the educational outcomes that lie at the heart of liberal education. A 2010 American Management Association survey of over 2,000 business leaders found that the top skills needed for business success were "communication skills (80.4 percent), critical thinking (72.4 percent), collaboration (71.2 percent), and creativity (57.3 percent). A 2013 survey of employers sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), found that more than 90% of employers believe that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major”; the same survey found that more than 75% of employers say they want more emphasis on key areas such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and written and oral communication.

The members of the Planning Committee, therefore, believe that the liberal arts must continue to inform and enrich a Lake Forest education and that the intellectual skills and abilities fostered by study of the liberal arts are, if anything, more valuable than ever. Our mission to develop students who can read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and think for themselves remains as relevant today as it has ever been.  Because employers say they need employees with precisely these skills, we must do a better job explaining this career relevance to prospective students and their parents.  We must also clearly show them how our academic programs develop these skills.


    <http://www.lakeforest.edu/live/files/2192-strategic-plan>

To this end, the Strategic Plan identifies a revision of the GEC as one of the College’s top priorities for strengthening the quality and attractiveness of its academic programs, and calls for that revision to: 


  • Incorporate the higher-level skills expressed in the College’s Mission Statement (“to read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and, above all, to think for themselves”) more rigorously into graduation requirements. Consider adopting a speaking requirement as well as an expanded writing requirement. Such higher-level skills are not only defining characteristics of a liberal education, they are also among the most desirable attributes cited by employers. Revising the GEC will enable us to better articulate the core skills that all students should be expected to acquire.
  • Establish specific learning objectives for each component of the GEC and meet the expectations of the Higher Learning Commission for the assessment of general education.
  • Potentially include a requirement that all students engage in high-impact experiential learning.

The suggestion that all students engage in high-impact experiential learning is further emphasized elsewhere in the strategic plan, with a recommendation to:

  • Expand and brand high-impact experiential learning opportunities across the curriculum. Strengthening real-world and high-impact learning experiences for all students will increase the value of our academic program. Consider requiring all students to complete at least one of the following forms of experiential education and to explain its connection to their academic interests and/or career plans: internships, faculty-student collaborative research, study abroad, or service learning.


This initiative to revise our general education program is clearly aligned with the College’s overall mission and planning processes and will help fulfill the strategic plan’s imperative to improve the quality and attractiveness of our academic program.

Intended Impact

The impact of this initiative will be felt across the entire institution. In the course of our work, we expect to develop a campus-wide understanding of the skills, knowledge and competencies that every Lake Forest student should be expected to acquire by the time of their graduation. We believe that developing such a shared understanding and ensuring that it is articulated clearly in our graduation requirements will have a major impact on our academic program and institutional culture. Irrespective of the specific details of the final general education program, we expect that the conversations and discussions inspired by this initative will energize faculty and revitalize our institutional commitment to the goals of general education. Establishing clearly defined learning goals and outcomes for general education will also enhance the College’s assessment efforts more generally. In so doing, the initiative will improve student learning and enhance the academic quality of the College. We anticipate that any new general education program that results from this initiative will be developmental in nature, clearly organized and logically structured, and based on the acquisition of specific skills, knowledge and competencies. As a result, we expect that the new requirements will more effectively prepare our students for productive and rewarding post-graduate lives and careers, and better prepare them to take their place in increasingly diverse and globalized world. Finally, we expect that this quality initiative will result in a general education program that will establish a more distinctive identity for our curriculum and the College.

Purposes and Goals


Purpose

To review and revise our general education curriculum and graduation requirements in order to meet institutional needs and better prepare students for the 21st century.

Goals

  1. Develop and implement a general education program that
    1. Expresses the values of the College’s mission statement and incorporates the higher-level skills expressed in the statement (“to read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and, above all, to think for themselves”);
    2. Identifies clearly defined student learning outcomes for each component of the general education curriculum and explains their relevance for preparing students for rewarding and productive post-graduate lives and careers;
    3. Articulates the skills, knowledge and competencies that every Lake Forest student is expected to acquire;
    4. Provides structured developmental pathways;
    5. Prepares our graduates to contribute to an increasingly diverse and globalized world;
    6. Provides students with choices and a variety of experiential outcomes;
    7. Establishes a distinctive identity for the College’s general education curriculum;
    8. Supports an assessment plan that maps to the general education curriculum and provides for the analysis of assessment data that will not only tell us whether our students are successfully achieving our stated learning goals but that will also assist with ongoing improvement of the curriculum.
  2. Achieve broad-based participation by campus stakeholders in the review process and develop recommendations that receive strong support from the faculty and the Board.
  3. Establish an ongoing process for the regular review of the general education program, including evaluation of assessment data, review of the specific courses and other components of the general education program, and solicitation of faculty and student opinion of the general education curriculum.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

Following completion of the initiative, outcome I. a.-h. will be achieved when a revised general education program is approved by the Curricular Policies Committee and endorsed by the faculty as a whole, and a redesigned general education curriculum is put in place. Following implementation, robust assessment of student learning outcomes will provide evidence for evaluating the success of the initiative. Analysis of assessment data will indicate whether students are achieving the stated learning goals and enable the College to make adjustments to improve the quality of the program. The college already collects NSSE data on a triennial basis and continuing to do so will allow us to compare the levels of student academic engagement prior to completing the initiative and afterwards. We also expect that a revised general education program will likely have a positive impact on our retention and graduation rates and we will continue to review that data annually to assess the impact of any changes. We will also evaluate our success in preparing students for post-graduate life by continuing to administer an annual survey of alumni conducted by our Career Advancement Center. Finally, faculty and student support for the general education program will be assessed through the administration of our existing annual Student Satisfaction Survey and biannual Faculty Satisfaction Survey. Data gathered from these surveys will enable the College to evaluate satisfaction with the general education program. Outcome II will be tracked during the work of the task force with progress reports being made regularly to the Curricular Policies Committee (which is charged with oversight for general education). The outcome will ultimately be assessed by the willingness of faculty members and the Board to approve the recommendations that result from the initiative. Outcome III will be accomplished either by the Curricular Policies Committee determining that it will provide active oversight for general education or through the creation of a new oversight committee for general education.

Internal and External Support


This Quality Initiative has the full support and endorsement of the President, the Provost, the Curricular Policies Committee, the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee, and the Board of Trustees. The idea that a revision of general education might be selected as the College’s Quality Initiative was first raised during a series of presentations on HLC’s new Open Pathway model of reaccreditation given by the Provost at meetings of the faculty, administrative staff and the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2012. Subsequently (as described above), the revision of general education featured prominently in the College’s new five-year strategic plan. Drawing on input received from a broad range of internal and external stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, senior administration, trustees and alumni, the strategic plan identifies the revision of general education as one of the College’s top institutional priorities. Following the Board’s endorsement of the strategic plan in October 2013, two of the College’s key elected faculty governance committees, the Curricular Policies Committee and the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee, took up the strategic plan’s recommendation to revise the general education curriculum and in late Spring 2014 created a Task Force on General Education and Graduation Requirements to begin work in the fall of 2014. The two committees also endorsed the idea that the review and revision of the general education curriculum should be selected as the College’s Quality Initiative for the purposes of HLC’s Open Pathway reaccreditation process. The two committees recommended that the task force be chaired by the Provost to ensure that the initiative commanded the full support of the College’s senior leadership. In keeping with the College’s governance system, the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee recommended the appointment of the other members of the task force. After the faculty as a whole was given the opportunity to comment on the creation of the task force and the selection of the project as the College’s Quality Initiative at a faculty meeting (where no objections or concerns were voiced), the initiative was reported to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board in May 2014, and received support from Board members.

As described above, this Quality Initiative represents the logical outcome of an extended period of planning. Identified as a top priority in the new strategic plan, the initiative has garnered the support of the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee, the Curricular Policies Committee, and the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board. The choice of the Provost to serve as the task force’s chair will ensure that the initiative receives the support and attention it warrants from across the campus. For these reasons the College is confident that the initiative will be successful and will make an important contribution to improving academic quality at the College.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

During the first year of the project, the Task Force on General Education and Graduation Requirements, led by the Provost, will take primary responsibility for implementing the initiative. As recommended by the Faculty Personnel and Policies Committee, the membership of the task force will consist of the following individuals:

  • Bill Dlugokienski, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Gates Center for Leadership & Personal Growth
  • Daw-Nay Evans, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
  • Lisa Hinkley, Associate Vice President for Career and Professional Development
  • Anna Jones, Associate Professor of History
  • Debra Levis, Assistant Professor of Politics
  • Michael Orr, Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty (chair)
  • Nicholas Wallin, Associate Professor of Music
  • Dawn Wiser, Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • David Yuen, Professor of Mathematics

In its choice of individuals to serve on the task force, the Faculty Personnel and Policies Committee determined that the membership of the task force should consist primarily of faculty members, given that the faculty has primary responsibility for overseeing the curriculum. Nevertheless, representatives from the Office of Student Affairs and Career Advancement Center were also asked to serve on the task force. Lake Forest College places great value on student participation in institutional planning and the task force has been explicitly charged to seek student feedback to assist it in its work. The task force has also been charged with gathering input from the faculty and staff, and consulting with relevant committees and offices, including the Assessment Sub-committee, the Registrar’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Off-Campus Programs, and the Curricular Policies Committee.  The task force will work particularly closely with the Curricular Policies Committee, as this latter committee is charged under our system of shared governance with oversight of the general education requirements of the College.

The members of the Curricular Policies Committee for 2014-15 are:

  • Bob Archambeau, Professor of English
  • Jason Cody, Professor of Chemistry
  • Rob Flot, Dean of Students
  • Michael Orr, Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty
  • Ahmad Sadri, Gorter Professor of Islamic World Studies and Professor Sociology
  • Two student members (yet to be named)

Because the Provost will be providing administrative leadership for the Quality Initiative, he will serve as the principal liaison to the President and President’s Senior Staff. He will also serve as the liaison to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board and the Board more generally.

The first year of the project will be devoted to developing an overall conception for a revised general education program, including identifying broad learning goals and outcomes. Following approval by the faculty and the Board, we anticipate that either a new task force will be appointed to operationalize the plan or that the Curricular Policies Committee will oversee development of the curricular and co-curricular components of the new general education requirements. The membership of this second group will be determined in the spring of 2015.

Committed Resources

Beyond the creation of a special task force, the review and revision of general education will depend upon existing committee structures and resources for curricular development. Recognizing the importance of this initiative, the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee has designated service on the task force as a major committee assignment and has endeavored to eliminate or reduce the other committee responsibilities of the members.  As committee service of this kind is considered to be part of the normal responsibilities of faculty and staff members, no additional financial resources will be required. The Provost’s Office will provide support for facilitating meetings, providing refreshments at open meetings, and supplying bibliographical materials such as AAC&U or AGLS publications on general education. Our Sub-committee on Assessment will be available to advise the task force as it considers learning outcomes and approaches to assessment. Our Learning and Teaching Center provides professional development for faculty members and will be available to assist with any faculty development initiatives that may required as a consequence of establishing a new general education curriculum. Should the task force wish to conduct surveys of opinion about general education goals or outcomes, our institutional research officer will provide logistical and technical support. Finally our governance structure, which assigns to our elected Curricular Policies Committee oversight of general education, will ensure that the outcomes of the quality initiative will be integrated with the ongoing work of the institution. Should a new body be needed to provide ongoing leadership and assessment of a revised general education program, it will be constituted as part of the College’s overall governance structure.

Given that this initiative represents the second attempt to revise the current general education curriculum at the College, it is important to identify possible obstacles to completing the initiative. One potential challenge is the faculty’s collective memory of the previous reform effort and the perception at the time that altering the current GEC would result in a significant increase in workload for faculty members. It will be important to remain sensitive to this issue throughout the initiative. The previous reform effort prominently featured the adoption of electronic portfolios as a tool for assessment and this component of the proposal contributed significantly to the proposal’s eventual rejection. For this reason, the Quality Initiative has been designed as a two step process in which an overarching conceptual framework for a revised general education program, together with broad learning goals and outcomes, will be offered to the faculty for its approval first before developing a specific implementation and assessment plan. Our current GEC unfortunately encourages the community to think about general education in terms of specific courses in particular departments or disciplines and it will be important for the Task Force to avoid thinking in those terms until the broader questions about skills, competencies and knowledge have been answered

Any review of general education is likely to raise concerns about the potential impact of a change in the requirements on demand for non-major courses, with popular departments concerned that a revision may exacerbate enrollment pressures in their non major courses while less popular departments may fear that a change in general education requirements will result in a lessening of student interest and a decline in their enrollments. As the work progresses on the initiative, it will be important to remain sensitive to such perceptions. One final potential obstacle concerns transfer students. Lake Forest College is fortunate to enroll a higher proportion of transfers than do many of our peer institutions. We need to ensure that a revised general education program appropriately accommodates transfer credits from other higher education institutions, while maintaining its coherence and rigor.

Primary Activities and Implementation Timeline

Fall Semester 2014

  • Task force begins review of the current GEC
    • Study best practices in general education and national conversations about general education (AAC&U’s LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, Lumina DQP; NILOA materials, AGLS publications)
    • Gather information on general education models at peer institutions;
    • Review the previous work of the 2007-10 Task Force on General Education.
  • Solicitation of input from the campus community (surveys, open fora, discussion at faculty and administrative staff meetings)
  • Consultation with relevant governance committees and administrators

Spring Semester 2015

  • Begin identifying the purposes, intended outcomes and key components of a Lake Forest education
  • Seek further input from the campus community, administrative offices, and governance committees
  • Develop a proposal for an overarching conceptual framework for a revised general education program and identify broad learning goals and outcomes
  • Seek additional feedback
  • Revise proposal and submit it for consideration and approval by the faculty and Board of Trustees

Fall Semester 2015

  • CPC or a new task force begins work on implementation plan
  • Identify the specific curricular and co-curricular components of the new general education requirements
  • Seek feedback from the campus community, administrative offices and governance committees
  • Develop guidelines for new general education courses

Spring Semester 2016

  • Draft a proposal outlining the specific components of the new general education program and its assessment plan
  • Circulate the draft to the campus, seeking additional input
  • Revise the proposal and submit it for consideration and approval by the faculty and Board of Trustees

Fall Semester 2016

  • If needed, schedule faculty development activities to facilitate the revision or development of new general education courses
  • Draft language for the course catalog and College website

Spring Semester 2017

  • Determine whether responsibility for oversight of general education should remain with the Curricular Policies Committee or if a separate general education committee should be created to provide oversight and ensure periodic review of general education courses.
  • Implement the new curriculum

Fall Semester 2017

  • The first class of new first-year students subject to the revised general education program is admitted to the College
  • Begin assessing the new general education program
 

Institution Contact

Michael Orr, Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty

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