At many institutions, the curriculum has grown organically over time, as new courses and majors have been added to provide more choices for students and to accommodate the interests of faculty. The combined demands of quality and cost containment give new urgency to tackling course proliferation and encouraging greater curricular coherence and integration. As institutions seek to sharpen their programs’ goals and expected outcomes, they must do so in the context of limited resources, recognizing that the additive approach is not only financially unsustainable but may ill serve the goals of liberal arts education.
The Teagle Foundation launched the Faculty Planning and Curricular Coherence initiative in 2014 to shine the spotlight on the curriculum and specifically on the collective efforts that faculty must make to design a coherent and integrated curriculum so that learning objectives are interwoven between and across courses for general education and the major. The process of creating a cohesive intellectual experience for students also needs to be coupled with an effort to sculpt a more compact curriculum that is more cost-effective to deliver. The question framing this initiative is: How can faculty work together to create a more coherent and efficient curriculum whose goals, pathways, and outcomes are clear to students and other constituencies with a stake in the future of higher education?
Funded projects may involve a single institution or multiple campus partners coming together. Participating institutions have developed communities of practice that enable faculty to gain a wider perspective on their course offerings and how they strengthen – or detract from – the overall curriculum. Strategies to promote curricular coherence have focused on various aspects: curbing curricular proliferation in competing offerings from academic departments and promoting institution-wide streamlining; encouraging curricular alignment between two- and four-year institutions that are transfer partners; streamlining and enhancing alignment in remedial course sequences that serve as “gatekeepers” to credit-bearing liberal arts coursework; and developing faculty capacity for integrative advising so they can help students reflect on connections among curricular and co-curricular experiences and their aspirations after college.
As of April 2017, 67 institutions spanning 18 states are implementing projects under the Curricular Coherence initiative. The campus partners are a mix of liberal arts colleges, comprehensive and doctoral institutions, and community colleges. Forty-four percent are minority-serving institutions. Close to 700 faculty have been reached by Teagle-funded activities in the funded projects to date. Lessons learned from the initiative-wide external evaluation are expected to be released in spring 2018.