General Education 2000 - A National Survey: How General Education Changed Between 1989 and 2000

Open Access
Johnson, Damon Kent
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 11, 2002
Committee Members:
  • James Fredericks Volkwein, Committee Chair
  • Dorothy H Evensen, Committee Member
  • Jeremy Cohen, Committee Member
  • James L Ratcliff, Committee Chair
  • general education
  • curriculum
  • higher education
This national study describes changes in general education practice between 1989 and 2000. General education has been a formal part of the typical American baccalaureate since the early 1900s (Cohen, 1998). Periodic reviews of general education are conducted. Since the late 1960s, these reviews have occurred in approximately ten year intervals. Dressel (1967), Blackburn et al. (1976), Toombs, et al. (1989), and Gaff (1991) examined general education across American higher education institutions. These studies trace the development of general education through the 1990s. The current study adds to this chronicling of general education. Undergraduate education in the United States was critically examined through a series of national reports between 1985 and 1995. Through these reports were directed at undergraduate education, they had implications for general education (Stark and Lattuca, 1997). The reports lamented increasing fragmentation in the undergraduate curriculum and the loss of a common understanding of the role for general education in the American baccalaureate. During the same period access to higher education increased resulting in an increasingly diverse student population served by increasingly diverse institutions of higher education. These changes suggest that general education may have changed and support the need for the present study. The study is exploratory and attempts to discover how general education changed and what influenced change in general education curricula. A national survey of Chief Academic Officers and a national survey of General Education Administrators solicited responses from those campus leaders most familiar with general education on their campuses. The study collected perceptual and behavioral information to determine the status of general education and to compare its findings to studies by Toombs, et al.(1989) and Gaff (1991). The findings of the study suggest that general education practice changed in the period and that it is continuing to change. The primary aims of the reforms were making general education programs more coherent, meeting changing student needs, and updating programs to reflect changing contexts. The study also found that the historical pattern of general education reform occurring in waves, reported by Gaff (1991), changed. The new pattern is one of continuous change. The findings suggest general education programs are more dynamic than in the past. As a result, this study found that general education practice might need to be guided by models that account for interactions between content, faculty, students, and other stake holders and that consider both the curriculum that faculty plan and the curriculum that students receive. The study suggests that two models be used to guide general education scholarship and practice – an academic planning model (Stark and Lattuca, 1997) and a model of curricula as communication (Ratcliff, 2000, 2001). Together, these models consider both the curriculum faculty plan and the curriculum students receive.