After many years of a menu-driven, individualized format with students choosing from more traditional narrowly focused ‘introductions’ to specific fields, groups of UA faculty met, in the Summer of 1995, to develop a new university-wide general education curriculum. The Faculty Senate adopted the new University-wide General Education structure in 1997 and students began matriculating under these guidelines as of Fall 1998. The current program was designed to provide a more directed exploration of academic breadth, focusing on interdisciplinarity early in a student’s career, common learning outcomes for each of 3 interdisciplinary strands, an appreciation of diversity of thought and culture, and development of essential skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, teamwork and effective use of information technology, all guided by the mantra: ‘In short, the goal of the general education program is to prepare students to respond more fully and effectively to an increasingly complex world”. (1998-2003 UWGEC Review Report)
In 1998-99, an Assessment subcommittee of the University-wide General Education Committee (UWGEC) along with Tier 1/Tier 2 faculty members designed a process to measure the effectiveness of the curriculum, refining the desired outcomes and measures for the assessment process. The resulting recommendations for assessment protocols were presented to the full Committee in spring 2000. In addition, in early 2003 the UWGEC voted to formally incorporate Information literacy requirements and learning outcomes skills into the Program.
An inaugural review of the first five years of the General Education Program was undertaken by the UWGEC in 2003 to review the program’s design, implementation, effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses. The official result was submitted in March 2004 to the current Vice Provost for Instruction (VPI) (1998-2003 UWGEC Review Report). While the issues of program sustainability, funding, assessment and coordination were highlighted as essential elements needing continued focus, this review supported the overall efficacy of the new program in meeting the educational needs of UA students.
Given the University’s pattern of holding Academic Program Reviews every seven years for all academic units, a subsequent review was undertaken by a more widely representative Review Team in 2004. This report reaffirmed the importance of the Gen Ed program and its general objectives, indicating that the existing structure of Foundations, Tier 1/Tier 2 courses was adequately meeting the goals of this program. However, the report highlighted key recommendations requiring attention: increased clarity of the learning outcomes, increased awareness of and communication about the relevance of GE, need for persistent assessment of courses and program, and dedicated and predictable funding to support the goals of the program.
In Fall 2006, a Leadership Team on Outcomes Assessment (LTOA) was convened by the Provost’s Office and charged with developing successful partnerships with individuals on campus who support the operations of outcomes assessment efforts. The LTOA's initial projects focused on general education; however, the ultimate goal was to identify strategies that lead to continuous improvement of the teaching and learning experience for students and to provide a recommendation for assessment at the University that is meaningful, manageable, and sustainable. The group was also asked to provide input to the campus community and to central administration regarding external (e.g., accreditation, ABOR) calls for data to demonstrate that students are achieving the institution's goals for learning.
Following a 2010 systematic review of 20% of the Tier 1 courses by UWGEC, it was determined that the majority of the reviewed courses met the Gen Ed criteria. Also at this time a new computer system was implemented and the tier one courses were renumbered to a house number with departmental prefix.
In 2016, after an in-house writing assessment of students in general education, a new policy was implemented wherein all tier one and tier two courses were to include writing. At least 10 pages of writing with one assignment being 750 words or more with a rewrite opportunity that was required.
In Spring 2018, a Task Force consisting of faculty, academic advisors, and other stakeholders developed similar recommendations based on data collected from students, colleagues and alumni. During the summer of 2018, a five-member team led by Gail Burd participated in the AAC&U General Education Institute and initiated a Team Action Plan, designed to execute the recommendations from the Task Force.
Following the initiation of that effort, the 2019 University of Arizona Strategic Plan placed General Education in Pillar One, providing the opportunity to continue work on revision of the curriculum and program to re-create the general education experience at the university. Additionally, the Arizona Board of Regents’ revised General Education policy 2-210 in June 2019 provided an exigence and clear guidelines for finalizing the revision of the curriculum and program. The opportunity to collaborate among the three state institutions to create a new, shared assessment approach to General Education has also inspired and guided our thinking about how to revise the curriculum and help students effectively reflect and build upon their learning.
By working closely with faculty involved in teaching Gen Ed as well as members of the University-Wide General Education Committee (UWGEC), the curriculum proposal has gone through several iterations to ensure that it is of the highest quality and is responsive to the experiences of students as well as faculty who are committed to Gen Ed. This new and revised General Education curriculum has been created, with highly intentional integration of evidence-based teaching and learning principles and developments, by faculty and staff from across the university.
The new General Education curriculum at the University of Arizona will eventually replace the current Tiers curriculum beginning with a soft launch in Spring 2022. Initially, the new curriculum will serve Spring 2022 matriculants; thereafter, the new curriculum will serve subsequent first-year and transfer matriculants, steadily replacing the Tiers GE curriculum over the course of several years.