Component B: The organization demonstrates that acquisition of a breadth of knowledge and skills and the exercise of intellectual inquiry are integral to its educational programs.

Criterion 4
The University's first purpose is to "[a]ward degrees in education, business, and the liberal arts and sciences, with all students documenting their competency in Aesthetic Engagement, Communication, Global Awareness, Technology, Collaboration, Effective Citizenship, Problem Solving, and Wellness." The University thus offers a breadth of knowledge - education, business, and the liberal arts and sciences - and the intellectual skills necessary for effective educational programs. Because these skills are integral to the introductory coursework in the student's general education program and also more fully developed in the major (as documented by the student portfolio), the University demonstrates both a breadth and depth of knowledge and intellectual skill development in its educational programs.
General Education
While State Board Policy identifies the coursework required in the general education program at each campus in the System (Policy 403.7), at VCSU the University Abilities provide the framework for the General Education program, thus assuring both the introductory-level breadth of knowledge that forms the foundation of a liberal arts education and the formation of intellectual skills necessary for more advanced inquiry. As described in Chapter 6, Core Component 3a, each course identifies the University Ability it develops, and courses are organized by Ability, with a defined number of credits required in each section. Every area of the Liberal Arts and Sciences participates by providing introductory coursework for one or more Ability; that the material is introductory and intended to provide foundational knowledge can be understood from two points: the Curriculum Committee restricts coursework in the General Education program to 100 and 200 level courses, and VCSU’s professional degree program (education) does not offer any courses in the General Education program. The Curriculum Committee has discussed two current initiatives that relate to the fundamental structure and purpose of the General Education program and higher education curriculum in general, the AAC&U LEAP initiative, and (very recently), the Lumina Degree Profile. LEAP: Liberal Education America's Program. Over the past three years, the NDUS has hosted a series of General Education summits to encourage campuses across the state to review the goals of the LEAP initiative. This AAC&U program is organized around a robust set of "Essential Learning Outcomes," all of which are best developed by means of a contemporary liberal education. Described in College Learning for the New Global Century, these essential learning outcomes, and a set of "Principles of Excellence," provide a new framework to guide students' cumulative progress through college. In Spring 2009, NDUS held its first General Education Summit to discuss how System campuses could work together to enhance the General Education Curriculum. In Fall 2010, the fourth Summit brought together representatives from 16 of North Dakota’s 18 public, private, and tribal colleges and universities to further this discussion and create a constitution. During the spring and summer of 2010, state colleges and universities ratified the constitution, and North Dakota became the 6th LEAP state. The primary purpose of the NDUS General Education Summit is to "foster discussion and collaboration in reviewing General Educational practices, assessment, and outcomes across institutions of higher learning in the state of North Dakota" (taken from Council’s Constitution). Another important element of this Council is to be engaged with both private and public employers to see how the NDUS can better prepare students for the 21st century workforce. VCSU has two voting representatives on this Council which meets four times a year. This initiative was a grassroots movement of faculty throughout the state and has the support of the North Dakota SBHE. VCSU’s General Education program and its purposes align closely with this new initiative, as the goals of LEAP dovetail with the University Abilities (see Table 7.4) and add strength to the purposes and results of the Abilities assessments. A review of the "High Impact Educational Practices" document from LEAP indicates that VCSU is already engaged:
  • First-Year Seminars and Experiences
  • Common Intellectual Experiences
  • Learning Communities
  • Writing-Intensive Courses
  • Collaborative Assignments and Projects
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Diversity/Global Learning
  • Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone Courses and Projects
Many of these practices are included in the curricular and co-curricular activities of the University; the task of the faculty will be to determine how effectively these practices are being utilized to achieve the learning outcomes identified by LEAP, the VCSU University Abilities, and the Lumina Degree Profile.

The General Education Council. The Curriculum Committee has been tasked with overseeing the General Education program. However, given its other duties, its efforts have been divided and attention to General Education has been intermittent. To resolve this problem, in Fall 2010 the Curriculum Committee recommended establishing a council to oversee the General Education program, including its assessment, curricular changes, and campus participation in state-wide general education initiatives. After several meetings in Spring 2011 of the full general education faculty, a General Education Council was formed with two faculty representatives from each division. The Council met in Summer 2011 to discuss the group's purposes, develop a mission/vision for the program, and begin work in understanding the Lumina Degree Profile and the LEAP initiative as they connect with VCSU's University Abilities. The General Education Council reports to the Curriculum Committee, maintaining the structure of faculty governance over curricular issues.

The draft General Education program (renamed "Nexus" by the new Council) mission and vision statements will be presented to the Curriculum for review Fall 2011.
  • Mission: As a network of interrelated courses, the Nexus [General Education] Program promotes rigorous study in the liberal arts, leading to lifelong learning, meaningful service, and effective citizenship within an integrated and diverse society.
  • Vision: The Nexus [General Education] Program offers a powerful, integrated learning experience that builds capabilities essential for the 21st century.
In an effort to better understand the LEAP initiative and the Lumina Degree Profile, the Council attempted to crosswalk the two with the University Abilities (see Table 7.4).

The exercise verified for the Council that the University Abilities - and the conceptual framework they represent - are a good fit for current understandings of the broad intellectual skills necessary both for a liberal education and lifelong learning. The effort to understand each area and make connections also helped the Council determine areas for further discussion on campus - the vertical extension of the "breadth of knowledge" into the upper-level coursework. Both LEAP and Lumina see this as an important aspect of a liberal education, and, while the senior portfolio focuses on the University Abilities at the upper-level, it presents material within the major rather than demonstrating knowledge breadth. One possibility might be to broaden the senior portfolio course to develop interdisciplinary, senior capstone activities that could be used to demonstrate advanced level achievement of the Abilities, expertise in the program major, and breadth of knowledge in making applications of these competencies in an interdisciplinary project.

As the Council begins its work this fall, it will be reviewing the University Abilities data gathered Summer 2011 from General Education projects and determining next steps for program improvement.
Table 7.4  Crosswalk

Undergraduate Academic Programs

The University offers a broad range of programs in the liberal arts, sciences, business, and education. The academic areas are divided into five divisions:
  • Fine Arts (music and art)
  • Communication Arts and Social Sciences (communication, English, Spanish, theatre, library science, history, human services, psychology, sociology)
  • Business and Information Technology (business administration and information systems)
  • Math, Science, and Health and Physical Education (math, sciences, fisheries and wildlife, health, exercise science, and physical education)
  • School of Education and Graduate Studies (technology education, STEM education, elementary education, teacher education, graduate studies)
Each division and its programs are described in the 2010 Catalog, which also details the learning outcomes and University Abilities required for the Senior Portfolio in each area.

Faculty in these program areas lead curricular development, beginning with departmental and divisional oversight, and then review and approval by the University Curriculum Committee and Faculty Senate. The VPAA participates as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Curriculum Committee and as the President's representative at Faculty Senate. The curriculum, therefore, is fully in the hands of the faculty, ensuring program integrity, access to recent study in each field, and direct understanding of student needs in each program.

Program Ability Maps. Every course in every major must include a project designed to document achievement in one of the program's identified Abilities. Each program has developed a program Ability map of all the course projects to assist seniors in developing their portfolios. Thus the University Abilities, developed initially in the General Education program, are developed more fully in the upper level courses, particularly as they relate to research, applied knowledge, and problem solving. In viewing senior portfolio presentations each semester, faculty are therefore able to assess the depth of knowledge and intellectual skill development students achieve by graduation.

Advanced Degree Programs

The Graduate School documents the advancement of the skills of intellectual inquiry and depth of knowledge through a similar capstone portfolio process (described in Chapter 6, Core Component 3a). The program documents six Core Values and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards in the portfolio; the curriculum is shaped by a set of core courses (12 credits) which provide foundational, graduate level knowledge and initial understanding of the six Core Values, followed by more advanced and focused work in one of four concentration areas. The final academic requirement of the program, the action research project, integrates understanding of research processes with content knowledge and practical, real-world application in the classroom or library. The Graduate Office gathers data from each portfolio defense, the field experience required of each student, and the action research report, which is shared with graduate faculty to improve course content and program requirements.

Co-Curricular Activities: Contributions to Breadth of Knowledge and Abilities

A number of co-curricular activities at VCSU contribute to the abilities and knowledge required for life-long learning. Student research opportunities are discussed in Core Component 4a; student internships are described in Chapter 6, Core Component 3c. Some co-curricular activities supported by Student Affairs programs have been mapped with Learner Outcomes, to assist students who may wish to use co-curricular activities in their Senior Portfolios (examples in Resource Room).

The range of activities is broad, from academic to social, to community-based programs. A sample of this range is provided below:
  • Student-led annual yearbook production
  • Theatre Season - several productions, one of which is student-produced each year
  • Art Gallery exhibitions, many of which present student work
  • Musical performances - individual recitals, general student recitals, and band and choral performances
  • Participation in Community Orchestra
  • Publication of The Forge, the student literary magazine
  • Leadership opportunities in Student Government (Senate, VCAB)
  • Freshman Mentors - serve as group leaders in the freshman seminar Learning to Live
  • Viking Ambassadors - assist the enrollment services office and work with prospective students
  • Resident Assistants - serve as a resource and provide programming for residence hall students

Evaluation of Core Component 4b

The University offers a breadth of knowledge and the intellectual skills needed for effective educational programs, both at the introductory (general education) level and in the more fully developed major.

Strengths: Review of the LEAP Outcomes has affirmed VCSU's use of the eight Abilities to provide the framework for both the General Education program and the Senior Portfolio.

New Initiatives: The General Education Council will begin its first year in Fall 2011. In addition to keeping faculty attention on the General Education program, the Council will take attend to assessment data from the abilities projects, program improvement, and state-wide general education initiatives.

Challenges: The integration of "broad knowledge" into the upper-level study (the major) will require considerable campus discussion.