Expectations for Upper Division General Education

AS-3211-15/AA (Rev)

RESOLVED: That the Academic Senate of the California State University (ASCSU) recommend that expectations for Upper Division General Education (GE)1 be more explicitly defined in a future update of Executive Order (EO) 1100 (General Education Breadth Requirements); and be it further

RESOLVED:  That the ASCSU endorse the following as characteristics to be included in an expanded definition of Upper Division GE:

    a. Be an integrative experience that relies upon and refines knowledge, abilities, and skills obtained via lower division GE.

    b. That the upper division portion of GE be acknowledged as a campus-specific contribution of GE for each campus.

    c. That each campus be able to determine transferability or appropriateness of transfer for upper division GE coursework.

    d. That specific upper division GE requirements and modifications or changes to those requirements be determined by faculty at the campus level (e.g., thematic clustering of courses, a language requirement, service learning, globalization, diversity, fiscal responsibility, etc.).

; and be it further

RESOLVED:  That the ASCSU strongly urge campuses to clearly define learning objectives and outcome expectations for their own upper division GE programs in order to make explicit the local campus understanding, expectations, and criteria for what will, and will not, count as upper division GE; and be it further

RESOLVED:  That the ASCSU commend the Office of the Chancellor for their engagement in the current revision of EO 1100 (General Education Breadth Requirements) and request that future revisions use a similarly transparent and collaborative process; and be it further

RESOLVED:  That this resolution be distributed to CSU General Education Advisory Committee, CSU Campus Provosts/Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs, CSU Campus Senate Chairs, CSU Chancellor White, Assemblyman Mark Levine, and Senator Marty Block.

RATIONALE: The ASCSU is the formal policy-recommending body on system-wide academic, professional and academic personnel matters for the California State University System (Constitution of the ASCSU).  As stewards of the curriculum, the ASCSU is on record as protecting the autonomy of the Universities that compose the CSU system (Distinctive Universities and Campuses: The Autonomy of Individual Institutions in a Multi-Institutional System, AS-2820-07/FGA/AA [Rev]); nevertheless, recent developments in California concerning Community College Baccalaureate degrees, our own acknowledgement of changing expectations for General Education (Clarifying the Changing Expectations for General Education, AS-3119-13/AA [Rev]), and the movement towards greater cross-campus enrollment (especially via online courses and exacerbated by campus impaction) suggest the need to better define expectations and policies for upper division general education.

This resolution responds to the danger that upper division GE be treated as an easily interchangeable commodity.  The danger of such a strategy is that it would force a common “area descriptor” and thus reduce campus commitments to provide exposure to the environment, globalization, community action, diversity, or any other such campus-chosen area of focus.  A combination of case-by-case approvals (the current status) and established formal articulations is advocated.  The goal is to have campuses clearly describe (and assess) their outcome expectations and learning objectives for their Upper Division GE programs in order to make explicit the local campus “understandings” about what should, and importantly what should not, count as an upper-division GE course for a future graduate of that institution.

CSU Academic Affairs memo AA-2015-03 (Fully Online Courses for Concurrent Enrollment, March 17, 2015), describes the CSU response to AB 386 [Levine] (on Cross-Enrollment in Online Education at California State University).  In part, AA-2015-03 reads:

It is the overall intention that articulation will occur with all AB 386 courses; however, these articulations will take time given the expected number of courses. There will likely be courses for which an exact equivalent does not exist, but the credit should nevertheless be given in a manner which benefits the student. The legislation reads, "A course provided entirely online pursuant to this chapter shall be accepted for credit at the student’s home campus on the same basis as it would be for a student matriculated at the host campus." In this sense, the expectation is that credit should be applied at the same level/manner (i.e. upper division vs. lower division, applicable to GE, electives within the major, etc.) when it is evaluated for the student at their home campus.

With the exception of implied residency, AB 386 effectively requires business as usual for CSU campuses.  Campus articulation decisions should be made with respect to campus-based requirements; the transfer course should articulate for credit towards completion of the matched course on the receiving campus if the expectations and outcomes are aligned to the local campus requirements, but should not articulate (either on an individual basis or systemically via a standing articulation agreement) if the offered course misaligns with the expectations for the local course.  Such alignments are typically formalized via a process of CSU departmental assessments followed by a public posting of any approved articulation agreements.

AA-2015-03 is (presumably accidentally) too strong if read to suggest that upper division GE might “automatically” transfer to a different campus.  Existing CSU system policies allow campus discretion in separating out different GE requirements across courses within an area (this is analogous to first year chemistry in which different institutions cover the content differently across semesters and thus a “first year chemistry” prerequisite generally requires the whole sequence to come from a single school and not be pieced together across institutions).  The CSU does not currently require campuses to accept course-to-course lower division GE transfer and AB 386 only requires us to examine the course’s applicability to the various components of a students’ degree program “as if” it had been taught on the local campus.  In some cases the transfer course may not meet local requirements.  As another, more extreme, example, some lower division courses with similar (or identical) titles actually meet different GE areas based on differences in the outline of record for the course (or other documents that describe course content and modality).  Thus, much as an upper division course in micro-endocrinology may or may not transfer as articulated to another endocrinology course at a different campus, upper division GE should also be evaluated against local requirements (following long-standing practice) and thus treat the course “as if” it had been taught on the local campus.

For lower-division GE, CSU Executive Order 1100 requires campuses to accept “area certification" or full lower-division "CSU GE certification" (both able to be completed entirely with lower division content) without the receiving campus being able to open up the package to individually re-evaluate the various lower-division GE elements. This type of “automatic transfer” is a desirable feature for lower-division general education and we have many decades of work in establishing equitable and fair processes around this type of transfer.  Forced course-to-course articulation is inappropriate in GE and that the lower division GE area/entirety certification model is exceptionally inappropriate for upper division GE content.  In part, the history of GE (especially pre-SB 1440 and the Board of Trustee actions on 120 unit limits) is that campuses use upper division GE to contribute towards a shared experience and/or outcome for all of their graduates (cf., “SJSU Studies” at SJSU, other campuses have expanded or clarified requirements around diversity, service learning, globalization, and language fluency).

Imposed global transfer requirements for upper division GE would likely lead to either undue specificity in system-level expectations for GE or would undermine campus efforts to instill anything beyond minimal expectations for students via their experience in upper division general education.   Even where campus-based expectations for upper division GE survived the twin reductions in learning experiences generated by (i) the recent Board of Trustees modification to Title 5 which reduced program expectations into those attainable within 120 units and (ii) the impact of SB 1440 (restriction on upper and lower division units), an imposed global transfer requirement for upper division GE would produce additional homogenization of the content of campus programs across the CSU.  This homogenization would diminish the diversity of campus experience and opportunities for students to interact with their local communities (inside and outside of their local campus), as well as explicitly undermine local campus graduation requirements (e.g., language, diversity, service-learning, etc).

Neither current law (AB 386) nor Academic Affairs memo AA-2015-03 require such a reduction in campus autonomy as would occur from the application of our existing rules for lower division (preparatory) general education to upper division (capstone) requirements for general education.  A reasonable person reading the law and the memo would conclude that campuses ought to assess potential transfer towards their GE package via courses from other campuses (regardless of if “in person” or concurrent enrollment [via AB 386 enrollment or otherwise]).  However, it is unreasonable to pressure a campus to reduce their academic standards to the lowest common denominator.

Approved Unanimously – May 14, 2015



1Note: there may be upper division courses that are used to fulfill lower division CSU GE requirements that are not upper division GE” as defined herein; we bifurcate lower division GE (“CSU GE Certification” at transfer) from the nine units of campus-specific upper-division GE.


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