General Education in Technical Programs

Abstract

General education courses have been entrenched into many Associates of Applied Science (AAS) Degree Programs in the community college. These degrees were developed in order to create a job readiness through practical application within the discipline-specific courses that are associated with the major. In most cases, the general education courses are unrelated with the technical field of study in which the student is enrolled. This irrelevance to specified skill set has caused a number of students to withdraw from college. In many occasions, students would simply not enroll as a result of the added courses introduced by the requirements of a general education course. As a result, certificates, and diploma credential programs were brought up.

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The following research analysis is a combination of research articles that explores a variation of thoughts, opinions, and research into general education courses and their usefulness in today’s college degree. The importance of general education courses are highlighted in many of the articles. Effectiveness and to date relevance in general education courses are also investigated in many of the discussed references.

This analysis also explores the opportunity in the transfer component of the technical degree. With dependence on general education courses requirements in many of our technical degrees, the opportunity of transferring these degrees should be explored. In some instances, the combination of the general education courses and technical courses strengthen the success of many students.

Existing research is limited in offering a direct comparison of the general education effectiveness towards technical programs. Most of the articles researched were able to identify one side of each issue and avoided any direct comparison or conclusion as to the need for general education to be applied in technical programs. However, the research permits insight as to the gaps that exist and the opportunity to conclude on reasons why general education courses are important or otherwise and discounted within a two-year Associates of Applied Science Degree. It is in this spirit that I will conclude, in my opinion, that the amount of general education courses does not support the industry needs of an associate of applied science degree in today’s community colleges.

Analysis

The understanding of the function of the Applied Science Degree is very vital in today’s college degree. The article by the American association of Community College & Junior Colleges (1985) details this aspect. It offers fourteen statements that clearly lay out the intended function of the AAS. They include; the idea of immediate employment at the completion of the degree program which is designed for specialty trade or occupation, the responsiveness to the needs of the regional workforce, it should be centered on learning outcomes which should be limited to 60-70 credit hours, 50-75% of the curricula should be technical based, and a minimum of 25% general education courses for admission selection. Also, that the student service components should be centered on career bound learners. The author further proposes that articulation credit from secondary institutions should be accepted from secondary institutions during admission into four-year institution.

On the other hand, Anderson et al. (2007) suggests ideas that lead into questions that consider the role of general education as being able to change the values of the students. The investigation of the article focused on the effect of introducing general courses on the student’s attitude and values towards the environment. The findings indicate that there is notable change in student’s attitudes and values.

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Anderson, Alfonso, and Sun (2006) consider the idea of keeping academically superior community college students from going into four-year programs by channeling them into vocational or occupational programs. This has forced the four-year institutions to review their requirements for admitting the AAS students which include the reduction of the number of general courses offered in technical programs.

The provision of general education courses has undergone transformation over time. According to Boning (2007), the level of curriculum coherence has drastically changed over the last 200 years. He notes that the relationship between general education courses and technical programs has been fragmented in the recent past. This calls for the review of the need for general education courses in today’s community colleges.

In their article, Cohen and Ignash (1994) identify the changes in liberal arts offerings among America’s community and technical colleges. According to Cohen, liberal arts offerings have increased from 52% of total course offerings in the year 1986 to 56% in 1991. This notable increase in liberal arts can be attributed to the increase in the state agreements with 4-year institutions and the increased number of students seeking the first two years of baccalaureate degree at a two-year college. Foreign languages had the greatest increase in the number of courses offered. Their argument is justifiable in that those students in technical field would be required to interact with people from diverse origins and the need for proper communication cannot be ignored. One can say that this has been necessitated by the ever increasing need for global interaction in the working environment.

Issues on general education, transfer, and the need for general education courses need to be addressed (Cohen & Eric Clearinghouse for Community Colleges, 1994). The article mentions the community college curriculum in general. The author identifies the graduation prerequisites which include the courses in general education and liberal arts. The author, however, does not offer any meaningful criticism on the question at hand.

The transferability of liberal courses and other general education courses from community colleges into four-year institutions need to be discussed in relation to the technical programs. Cohen and Ignash (1993) recognize the multi-purpose mission of the community college and the diversity in program offerings. They argue that the vocational and occupational coursework being taught in community colleges do have merit in some form of transferability. The authors draw three conclusions in their study. Firstly, they conclude that the research universities are more selective when it comes to transferring credit from general education courses. Secondly, the conclusions show an increase in transferability in non-liberal arts in state comprehensive universities with the exception of trade and health courses. The final finding concludes that non-liberal art courses do transfer to state comprehensive universities in the states of Texas, Illinois, and California. This shows that different states have varying approaches in dealing with the question of general education and technical programs.

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There can be notable importance in combining the offer of high paying technical programs with the general education courses. Draeger (2006) illustrates the workings of the Miami Valley Tech Prep Consortium out of Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH. The consortium, according to Draeger, worked to create a mixture of technical and general education coursework along with additional support adhered with strong professional development motives to improve student success. The outcome of this consortium was a greater graduation rate, employment, and transfer rates to four-year colleges. The consortium also saw a decrease in attrition rates as well as lowered rates of remediation at the community college level. Students were placed in the career pathways track at the ninth and tenth grade level which contradicts the standard junior and senior level placements. Many of these students were dual enrolled in community college courses in their junior and senior years. An analysis of Draeger’s work reveals that if students in technical programs are to succeed, then they must be directed in their paths early enough in the academic ladder.

Further research has established the need for prior integration of the general education courses and the technical programs. Gilbert, Schuilt, & Ekland-Olson (2005) have conducted research into this issue. They collected data from eleven thousand faculty members that showed how general education courses placed greater emphasis on developing intellectual skills, persona and social responsibility, and greater empathy on learning and appreciation for diversity. The data explores the other type of courses that encourages practical and technical skills with greater interactions within the faculty and students. This article could clearly illustrate a reason for the initial differences between the technical and general education courses which need to be addressed before one reaches the university where one would be expected to demonstrate specialty rather than generality.

Contrary to the preceding findings on the need for general education in technical programs, some scholars find no reason for the inclusion of general education courses into the technical programs in the community colleges. Ford and Friederici (2007), in their article, discuss the irrelevance of today’s general education courses as they relate to the new world around the recent college graduates. Their discussion details the cumbersome nature of the buildup of courses inside a major that requires prerequisites. After these courses are completed, students could realistically have enough credits to graduate from the institution before dealing with the true upper-level courses that focus on the intended occupations. This is nothing but overburdening the students! It is this idea of too much work that convinces me to support the group that is opposed to the inclusion of general education courses into the technical programs. When it comes to the need for effective communication cited by the proponents, it can always be taken care of by the courses studied at lower levels.

In reaction to this point of view, many scholars have tried to understand if there are any variations in the four-year institutions. In his article, Grubb (2006) focuses on the different types of 4-year institutions. This institution type is described as second-tier and takes a vocational approach to learning and relaxes the research requirements that many 4-year institutions focus on. They place less emphasize on the need for general education courses. This key component is vital to the transfer of AAS students into these types of institutions since they are in deed vocational based students. These institutions are also described as regional. Grubb also describes a community college’s initial focus as the first two years of a 4-year program. Occupational component of community colleges came at a later date. In return, second-tier four-year institutions are coming up with programs that focus on what community colleges have adapted to, occupational training which helps in ensuring that the students can offer specialized services to the society with minimal problems. This article provides insight into seeing the obvious possibility of adapting to a working model of AAS students integrating into the 4-year pathway.

Some institutions in America decided long time ago to do away with the general education courses within a technical education program. Grey and Shoemaker (1946) discussed the relationship between general education and the technical programs in the New York state institutes of applied arts and sciences. They proposed that a lot of care ought to be taken during the development of educational programs. Grey and Shoemaker claimed that irrelevant courses in general education had to be eliminated in the formulation of curricula for the technical education. This brings into question the many courses in general education programs that are considered prerequisite for graduation from community colleges offering Associates in Applied Science Degrees in modern age and time. In fact, the quality of students who complete their technical programs without having to bother about the general education courses has been found to very high and meeting the expectations of the market (Ford & Friederici, 2007).

Still on the same note, curriculum developers in the University of Minnesota saw the need to review the curriculum content to include only meaningful courses to the technical education programs especially at the community college. Spafford (1943) noted that there should be meaningful development of curricula that will add value to the other technical and field-specific courses which, on their own, cannot enable successful operation in the day to day life. The article outlines the need for the general education courses during the first two years of community college studies. His argument, to some extent saw the rationale of having general education at the introductory years of a four-year program. He appreciated the idea of training the students pursuing technical education about the communication skills and other liberal arts that would help them interact properly with the society as they offer their services. The United States Department of Labor (2006) emphasizes the need for proper articulation which can be obtained through the provision of general education courses. However, the issues of irrelevant courses sometimes found in the general education programs have been notably dismissed by the author.

Recent studies, however, have realized that there is more than meets the eye. Steele (2006) identified the role of politics in the ease of omission or inclusion of given educational programs. This author discusses the political processes of curricula transformation. It argues that the success of any curricula change will always depend on the strength and persistence of the academic administrators. They should be able to convince the people of the need for either the introduction or elimination of a given course or courses into a given program(s). This implies that a lot of advocacy for the elimination of the burdensome general educational courses should be started.

Conclusion

The above analysis provides a clear cut line between either the need for or against the general education courses in today’s technical programs. Most think that these courses are helpful and hence necessary while others dispute the need for such courses claiming that they overburden the students. From my personal point of view, the numerous general education courses which take half the entire time required to clear a technical program are less important and contribute less to the industry needs of an Associate of Applied Science Degree in today’s community colleges.

References:

American Association of Community College & Junior Colleges, W. D. C. C. F. O. E. (1985). Criteria for Excellence in Association in Applied Science Degree. Programs. National Council for Occupational Education Monograph Series, 2 (1).

Anderson, Mark W., Teisl, Mario F., Criner, George K., Tisher, Sharon, Smith, Stewart, Hunter, Malcolm, L., et al. (2007). Attitude Changes of Undergraduate University Students in General Education Courses. Journal of General Education, 56 (2), 149-168.

Anderson, G., Alfonso, M., & Sun, J. C. (2006). Rethinking Cooling out at Public Community Colleges: An Examination of Fiscal and Demographic Trends in Higher Education and the Rise of Statewide Articulation Agreements. Teachers’ College records, 108 (3), 422.

Boning, K. (2007). Coherence in General Education: A Historical Perspective. JGE: the Journal of General Education, 56 (1), 1-16.

Cohen, A. M., & Ignash, J. M. (1994). An overview of the total credit curriculum. New Direction for Community Colleges, 86, 18-34.

Cohen, A. M., & Eric Clearinghouse for Community Colleges, Los Angeles, C. A. (1994). Relating Curriculum and Transfer. New Directions for Community Colleges, 86.

Cohen, A. M., & Ignash, J. M. (1993). ERIC Review: The scope and transferability of occupational courses in the two-year college. Community College Review, 21 (3), 68.

Draeger, M. (2006). How Students Benefit from High-Tech, High-Wage Career Pathways. New Directions for Community Colleges, 135 (5), 81.

Ford, M., & Friederici, P. (2007). An Inconvenient Curriculum. Educational Forum, 71(4), 296-298.

Gilbert, L. A., Schuilt, P. E., & Ekland-Olson, S. (2005). Engaging Students: Integrated Learning and Research across Disciplinary Boundaries. Liberal Education, 91 (3), 44-49.

Grubb, W. N. (2006). Vocation and the Demarcation of Tertiary Education: Lessons from US Community Colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30 (1), 27.

Grey, L. & Shoemaker, F. (1946). General education in relation to vocational-technical education. Institute Curriculum research, State Education Department.

Spafford, I. (1943). Developing a curriculum for general education. University of Minnesota Press, 3 (2).

Steele, S. (2006). Curricula Wars. Journal of general Education, 55 (3), 161-185.

The United States Department of Labor (2006). Occupational Outlook Handbook. McGraw-Hill Professional.

General Education in Technical Programs
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