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GE Report: Other Factors

I. OIE Data Report findings

The fall 2018 OIE Data Report containing general education-related survey data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), and the Seaver College Senior Survey and the OIE Alumni Survey issued the following summary points:

  • Graduating seniors have a lower perception of the overall contribution of the general education (GE) curriculum to their knowledge, skills, and personal development when compared to Seaver College alumni.19
  • Graduating seniors on average perceive the GE curriculum contributing “somewhat” to their knowledge, skills, and personal development.
  • Seaver College alumni perceive the GE curriculum contributing “sufficiently” to their knowledge, skills, and personal development. 
  • Both graduating seniors and alumni report that the GE curriculum is “burdensome,” especially in regards to load.  
  • Both graduating seniors and alumni report that they would prefer more flexibility in their course selections.

II. First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminar is a seemingly integral part of the General Education Curriculum. The stated goal of this course is to introduce students to both the college experience and to academic inquiry. Nevertheless, it is the portion of the general education requirement that may be in the most dire need of revision. The critiques offered below are based on a 2019 self study by a faculty committee.

  • There are too many divergent PLOs for a single 3-unit course. 
  • Learning outcomes are inconsistently articulated across the Seaver website and Academic Catalog.
  • There is uneven distribution in faculty representation from different divisions.
  • The student experience in FYS is uneven.
  • There has not been clear leadership. Historically, no one has “owned” FYS in any meaningful way.
  • The Christian heritage of Pepperdine is unevenly presented, especially now that the Mission and Heritage series has been suspended.
  • FYS courses are not integrated into the rest of the general education curriculum.

The creation of an Associate Dean of Curriculum and General Education is a positive step. The next step is to seek clarity on what, exactly, we aim to achieve with a first year seminar. Is it an understanding of the institution and its Christian heritage with a smattering of academic learning, or is it to provide an academic seminar with a smattering of orientation? Finally, it is important to note that best practice is to provide FYS that are part of an integrative first year experience. 

III. Units Required 

The most recent OIE survey reveals that both graduating seniors and alumni find the GE curriculum to be “burdensome” in terms of load. The same critique has been articulated regularly in the Graphic over the years.20 The sheer amount of GE units has most recently been highlighted through the strategic planning process.21 

A Seaver undergraduate must take 63-64 units in the general education program or 49-50% of the total units required to graduate. (A student that starts their language courses at the 151 level takes an additional 8 units.) All but one of our peer and aspirational schools have general education programs that represent between 22% and 40% of the total units required to graduate as shown in Table 5.  In many cases, these courses must be taken at Seaver and this is a particular burden for transfer students and students who are trying to complete prerequisites for graduate and professional programs.

Table 5.  Total General Education units at Pepperdine University and Peer Institutions.

School General Education Units % of Total Units Prescribed Units Choice Units % Choice Units
Pepperdine University 63-72 49% 36 25 43%
Baylor University 49-56 40% 15 34 69%
Calvin College 49-65 40% 12 37 75%
Loyola Marymount 30-38 25-33% 15-18 15-18 50%
Macalester College 36-48 28% 0 36 100%
Occidental College 32-48 25% 0 32-48 100%
Santa Clara University 48-57* 27% 12 36 100%
Southern Methodist University 34-38 28% 13 21 62%
St. Olaf College 14-16** 40% 1 13 93%
University of San Diego 30-51 22% 3 27 90%
Valparaiso University 47-49 38% 12 35 75%
Wheaton College 54-74 44% 10 44 82%

* Santa Clara University is on the quarter system.

** St. Olaf lists each course as one credit.

IV. Choice

Second to the question of unit load is that of student choice. The most recent OIE report states: “Both graduating seniors and alumni report that they would prefer more flexibility in their course selections.”  Students must take three prescribed “Western Culture” courses, two prescribed religion courses, ENG 101, COM 180, POSC 104, HIST 204, and then choose two courses among PSYC 200, SOC 200 and ECON 200. Students may choose which courses to take in the third religion course as well as the mathematics, laboratory science, fine art, literature, world civilizations, and language requirements. Even here, however, many of the choices are not really options due to prerequisites or limited availability.   Students have at least four options to fulfill their general education requirements in only 43% of the units.   As shown in Table 5, at all but one of our peer institutions the proportion of units in which students have at least four course to choose from is 69%-100%.  (Note that the proportion of units with flexibility at SMU is 62%, but the overall general education program only represents 28% of the units required to graduate.)

In virtually every case, the general education requirement is linked to a specific discipline or set of disciplines within a division.22 In other words, the GE program is tied more to faculty specialization than to the skills that we know are vital to a well-rounded Seaver graduate. There is an attempt to link GE requirements to Knowledge, Skills and Perspectives, but this facet of the GE program is only articulated in the catalog and does not play a significant role in the distribution of GE requirements.23

V. Distribution v. Integration

As alluded to in the previous section, the GE curriculum at Seaver College is a so-called distribution model. Consequently, emphasis is placed on what is taught over what is learned. This is, perhaps, one of the leading factors in student disillusion: the GE curriculum feels like a mandatory checklist and not an integrated, purposeful system. There is no lens or means by which students are asked to actively make connections with other fields of knowledge. There is no integrative experience or cumulative project. 

VI. Diversity

There is no question that the current GE curriculum needs to address diversity in an explicit and meaningful way. The most recent SFA statement on racial injustice, which promises to implement a cultural competency component, is an explicit acknowledgement of this void. That we have not yet addressed this deficiency is, perhaps, the most glaring example of our own inability to change in order to meet our students’ needs. It must be addressed immediately and in a meaningful way.  All but one of our peer institutions explicitly address diversity within their general education program. 

VII. Assessment

The only ongoing assessment of the GE curriculum occurs via the Core Competencies. The PLOs of the various, disconnected requirements are not assessed at regular intervals. Whether or not changes are made to the current GE curriculum, more meaningful assessment needs to be done.

19. Ratings are based on a four-point scale with 1 = very little, 2 = somewhat, 3 = sufficiently, and 4 = considerably.
20. See https://pepperdine-graphic.com/give-students-more-choice/ See also https://pepperdine-graphic.com/ges-slow-student-progress/
21. Of all the comments collected about academics, the issue that received the most attention was diversity. A close second is the burden of the current GE curriculum.
22. Business is the lone exception.  Business does not explicitly have a course within the GE curriculum, but MATH 140 is a requirement for all business majors and exists primarily to serve those majors.
23. See p. 96 or the 2020-2021 Academic Catalog.