ERIC Identifier: ED351091
Publication Date: 1981-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los
Liberal Arts at the Community College. ERIC Fact Sheet.
What is the status of the community college liberal arts curriculum? What
reasons do community college students give for enrolling or not enrolling in
liberal arts courses? What steps can educators take to increase student
participation in the liberal arts? Recent research conducted by the Center for
the Study of Community Colleges (Los Angeles) has focused on these and other
problems related to the liberal arts (here defined as courses related to the
social sciences, humanities, the biological and physical sciences, and
mathematics). This research has included:
(1) An analysis of class schedules and course enrollments at six large urban
community college districts in California, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Arizona,
and Florida. (Course Enrollments and Completions..., 1983).
(2) Two national surveys conducted to identify changes that have occurred in
community college liberal arts programs from 1977 to 1982. (Friedlander, and
(3) Surveys completed by community college students in Washington State, at
the Los Angeles Community College District, and at Clark County Community
College District in Nevada. (Friedlander, 1981, 1982a, 1982b).
(4) An assessment of student knowledge of the liberal arts based on results
of a test (the General Academic Assessment) administered to a cross section of
1,276 students at five community college districts. (The Community College
Major research findings are summarized below.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COURSES TAKEN AND STUDENTS' KNOWLEDGE?
Community college liberal arts programs have a beneficial
impact on students. Research findings consistently reveal that what students
know is related to what they study and how they have studied it.
For example, the greater the number of college courses completed in the
humanities, the higher the scores on the humanities section of an assessment of
Further, student ratings of their academic competencies were related to the
kind of courses they completed in college. Students who completed courses in the
humanities were much more likely to rate their academic skills as good or
excellent in most competency areas considered.
In most instances, the rise in the number of college units completed was
accompanied by an increase in the percentage who reported that they made
considerable progress in achieving important objectives of general education.
In fact, it has been found that enrollment in business or occupational
courses does not contribute as much to student attainment of general educational
outcomes as does participation in courses in the humanities, sciences, or social
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE LIBERAL ARTS CURRICULUM?
analyses of course enrollments, class schedules, and curricular changes reveal
that most of the enrollment in liberal arts courses is at the introductory
Fifteen percent of the enrollments in the humanities, composition, and
mathematics were in courses for which there were prerequisites. The social
sciences had twenty-one percent of its enrollments at the upper level and thirty
percent of the enrollment in the sciences were in courses for which there were
At the same time, pre-college courses in the humanities or social sciences
were rarely seen. There were just a few courses in the sciences specifically
designed for students who needed some assistance with their reading, writing,
mathematics, science, and/or study skills.
It was found that high course attrition rates, especially in the introductory
classes, operate to shrink the pool of students available to enroll in
second-level courses. To illustrate, course attrition rates in the humanities,
mathematics, sciences, and social sciences were each in excess of thirty
Nonetheless, just over one-half of total course enrollments in six large
community college districts was in liberal arts classes. The range was from a
high of eleven percent of total district enrollments in the humanities and in
the sciences, mathematics, and composition, to a low of five percent in the fine
From 1977 to 1982, the number of humanities courses required for graduation
was increased in sixteen percent of the colleges studied and decreased in only
three percent of the colleges. The number of humanities courses required for
graduation did not change in the remaining eighty-one percent of the
In general, the types of humanities courses added to the curriculum focused
on a specific topic (e.g., women in politics, medieval ethics, history of labor
in the U.S., literature of the Irish, music in American life).
By 1982, interdisciplinary courses were being offered in fifty-one percent of
the community colleges. Nearly six in ten of the interdisciplinary courses were
team taught. Over sixty percent of the interdisciplinary courses included a
literature component. History was included in nearly half or the
interdisciplinary offerings. Art history/appreciation, music
history/appreciation, and philosophy were incorporated in over thirty percent of
the multi-discipline courses.
Between 1977 and 1982, the number of arts and humanities activities offered
by community service divisions increased at fifty-three percent of the community
colleges, decreased at thirteen percent of the colleges, and remained the same
at the remaining thirty-four percent of the institutions studied. The average
rate of increase in the number of arts and humanities activities offered was
nineteen percent; the average decrease in the types of offerings was five
One in three of the regular humanities faculty were involved in planning or
presenting arts or humanities events offered through community service
divisions. In twenty percent of the nation's community colleges, the faculty in
an academic department were charged with approving all academic-related
WHY DO STUDENTS ENROLL IN LIBERAL ARTS COURSES?
student surveys, respondents were asked to identify the primary reasons they had
for enrolling or not enrolling in a liberal arts course. Findings reveal that:
There is much variation in the reasons students have for enrolling in a
particular course. For example, within the humanities, one in three enroll to
fulfill a general education or distribution requirement, one in four do so for
personal enrichment, and one in five participate because it is required for
Only a small percentage of students cite counselor or faculty encouragement,
student recommendations, or interesting course descriptions as the most
important reason they have for enrolling in a particular course.
The most frequently cited reason students give for not taking a liberal arts
course is that it is not required. "Not interested in the course" is the second
most common reason for not participating in liberal arts courses. "Too much
required reading" is cited by about ten percent of the students as the main
reason they have for not enrolling in courses in literature, humanities,
history, philosophy, social sciences, and sciences. Very few students cite "too
much required writing" as the major reason they have for not enrolling in a
particular liberal arts course.
About twice as many students attending college to prepare for a career as
those preparing to transfer indicated that "not being required for the major"
was the primary reason they had for not participating in courses in the liberal
arts. Likewise, about seventy percent in each group noted that they did not
participate in art, music, theater, or foreign language courses because the
courses were not required.
Academically underprepared students differed from those who are better
prepared in that they were less likely to enroll in liberal arts classes. They
also reported making less progress towards the attainment of important
objectives of a traditional liberal arts education. Students who rated their
academic skills as fair or poor were much more likely to say they did not
participate in a course in which that ability was required because they were
"not interested in the subject." Such data, however, suggests that students tend
to avoid classes in which they think they will not do well.
HOW DO LIBERAL ARTS STUDENTS RATE THEIR ACADEMIC
Other survey questions asked students to rate their knowledge of the
liberal arts and their ability in skills that are requisite to successful
performance in the liberal arts. Findings reveal that:
Students self-ratings of their skills in a particular area of the liberal
arts (e.g., humanities) was a good indicator of their knowledge in that area.
For example, students who rated their skills in science as "good" or "excellent"
scored significantly higher on a measure of knowledge in science than did those
who rated their skills in science as "fair" or "poor".
Students in the State of Washington felt most confident in their ability to
read, write, and speak effectively, appreciate music, and critically examine
ideas. They were least confident in their ability to appreciate art and drama,
understand different cultures, and speak in a language other than English.
Areas in which students felt they had made the most progress in college were
learning on their own, acquiring background for further education in a
professional field, becoming aware of different points of view, and
understanding one's self. Areas in which more than one in three students
reported little or no progress included writing effectively, speaking
effectively, understanding social issues, understanding the social implications
of scientific developments, and developing an understanding and enjoyment of
art, music and drama.
The consensus among students and their instructors in one large urban
community college district was that a high percentage of students has some
difficulty in performing activities that require reading, writing, computing,
independent inquiry, and a commitment of time to complete course assignments.
TO WHAT EXTENT DO LIBERAL ARTS STUDENTS USE ACADEMIC SUPPORT SERVICES?
Given the significant number of liberal arts students who could
benefit from remedial or developmental assistance, the surveys sought to
determine the extent to which academic support services are actually utilized by
the students. Findings reveal that:
More than one in five students felt that they could have benefited from
having faculty advise regarding transfer, career choice, and study skills. The
students indicated, however, that they lacked the time to seek out such advice.
Similar results were found with respect to seeking advise in these areas from
Over twenty percent of the students thought that they could benefit from, but
had no time for, tutorial assistance in reading, writing, mathematics, or study
skills. The number of students who thought they could benefit from a particular
support service, but who had no time for it, was much greater than the number
who took advantage of the service.
Of those students who did not feel confident in a skill, less than thirty
percent took advantage of a support program designed to assist them in that
Over forty percent of the students who were deficient in a basic skill and
who did not seek assistance from the college support programs reported that they
did not have time to use the service, or that the service was offered at an
Students attending college to gain skills necessary to enter a specific
occupation had much lower scores on an assessment of general knowledge than did
those attending college to satisfy a personal interest, prepare for transfer, or
to gain skills necessary to advance in a current occupation.
In general, the differences in the kind of courses taken by students
preparing for transfer and those preparing for careers were reflected in the
amount of progress each group felt it had made in various achievement areas.
WHAT STEPS CAN BE TAKEN TO INCREASE ENROLLMENTS IN THE LIBERAL
Liberal arts enrollments are faring well. However, they still might be
improved. Some of the steps that can be taken to increase community college
enrollments are listed below.
Since most students are not likely to enroll in liberal arts courses unless
they believe that such courses will help them achieve their educational
objectives, students should be provided with information on how the liberal arts
beneficially impact personal, educational and career development.
Community college educators should work cooperatively with their counterparts
in high schools to help increase student interest in and appreciation of the
In order to assist the large number of underprepared students, educators
should include reading, writing, and study skills instruction in college-level
liberal arts courses.
Efforts should be undertaken to decrease attrition rates in the liberal arts.
If the student has a positive experience in his/her first liberal arts course,
he, or she will be more likely to enroll in another liberal arts course.
"The Community College Student Survey and
General Academic Assessment: 1983". Los Angeles: Center for the Study of
Community Colleges, 1983. (ED number not yet assigned.)
"Course Enrollments and Completions in Urban Community Colleges". Los
Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1983. (ED number not yet
Friedlander, Jack. "Clark County Community College Students: Highlights From
a Survey of Their Backgrounds, Activities, Ratings of Skills, Use of Support
Services, and Educational Attainments". Los Angeles: Center for the Study of
Community Colleges, 1981. (ED 201 373)
Friedlander, Jack. "Measuring the Benefits of Liberal Arts Education in
Washington's Community Colleges". Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community
Colleges, 1982a. (ED 217 918)
Friedlander, Jack. "Science Education for Women and Minorities in an Urban
Community College. Topical Paper No. 75". Los Angeles: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Junior Colleges, 1982b. (ED 214 578)
Friedlander, Jack, and others. "Trends in Community College Humanities
Education 1977-1982". Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges,
1983. (ED number not yet assigned.)