ERIC Identifier: ED358894
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Ignash, Jan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.

Describing the Non-Liberal Arts Community College Curriculum. ERIC Digest.

The community college curriculum reflects the diverse aims of the approximate 1,250 institutions nationwide. Courses are offered in the liberal arts, in occupational subjects, in community service interest areas ranging from CPR to origami, in literacy, in adult education, and in special contract programs with business and industry. While trends in the liberal arts have been charted for many years (Cohen and Ignash, 1992; Cohen and Brawer, 1987; Lewis and Farris, 1990), trends in other areas have not been similarly mapped. A recent study of credit non-liberal arts courses by the Center for the Study of Community Colleges (CSCC) has attempted to round off the curriculum count by tallying courses not included in previous liberal arts studies.

This digest presents the results of the 1992 "Non-Liberal Arts Curriculum Study." While dividing the curriculum into neat little "packets" of liberal arts versus non-liberal arts courses is necessary to measure curriculum in each area, these tidy divisions do not hold entirely true in real life. The final portion of this article comments on several "integrated curricula," which combine both liberal arts and non-liberal arts subject areas.


In order to gain a better understanding of the entire community college credit curriculum, the CSCC augmented its 1991 study of the liberal arts (Cohen and Ignash, 1992) with a study of the non-liberal arts, using data from the same random sample of 164 community colleges. The new study will eventually link descriptive information on the non-liberal arts curriculum with two other CSCC databases to explore the relationships between curriculum and transfer, as well as minority student enrollment and curriculum. This digest is reporting on the first portion of the study--that of tallying and analyzing courses in the community college curriculum outside the liberal arts.

In seven studies conducted by the CSCC since 1975, the liberal arts have been tallied according to six major discipline areas: humanities, English, fine and performing arts, social sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, and the hard sciences. Courses were also coded into remedial, standard and advanced categories. Almost all remedial courses were coded under the categories of English, mathematics, and the hard sciences (mainly biology and chemistry). Another taxonomy was established at the CSCC for the non-liberal arts, based largely upon the subject area divisions used by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education. The new study counted and categorized non-liberal arts courses into one of ten major areas, using the same Spring 1991 class schedules provided by the 164 colleges in the 1991 National Liberal Arts Study.


In spring 1991, 43.4% of the community college curriculum was devoted to the non-liberal arts. The way in which the study tallied course sections is pertinent to this finding. In none of the studies undertaken by the CSCC were laboratory classes included. Also, a course had to list a meeting time and place in order to be tallied; therefore cooperative education, apprenticeship, clinicals, practicums, field experience, and independent study courses were also excluded. Since laboratory classes occur with greater frequency in many non-liberal arts subject areas, such as automotive or nursing programs, their omission may at least partially account for the lower percentage of non-liberal arts courses.


The CSCC study found that four categories accounted for slightly more than 80% of all non-liberal arts courses. "Business and office" courses were by far the largest category, occupying a full 24.6% of the total non-liberal arts curriculum. This category included courses in accounting, taxes, business and management, typing, shorthand, and filing, legal assistant and other business courses. The "personal skills" category was the second largest grouping of courses, accounting for 19.1% of non-liberal arts courses. Physical education accounted for the lion's share of "personal skills" courses, although courses such as freshman orientation, introduction to the library, parenting, career and life planning were also included. The third largest category was "trade and industry," at 18.6%, and included construction, automotive, surveying and drafting, CAD/CAM, other mechanics and repairers, cosmetology, and hospitality industry courses. The fourth largest category (18.1%) was "technical education"; computer software applications courses accounted for the largest portion of courses coded under this category. Other courses included in "technical education" were protective services (fire, police, and military science), journalism, other mass media, and graphics and commercial photography.

Six other areas accounted for the approximately 20% of all other non-liberal arts courses: health occupations (10.2%); marketing and distribution (3.4%); education (2.5%); engineering technology (2.0%); agriculture, including floriculture and agribusiness (1.2%); and home economics (.2%).


Some of these findings bear comment. Few "true" home economics courses were found, as many sewing, tailoring, food preparation and preservation, and interior decorating courses were more oriented toward providing training for students in consumer service areas than skills to be used in the home. Only courses in baking, cooking and sewing for one's personal use at home were included under "home economics." Classes such as pattern design, fabrics, wines, culinary arts, and refrigeration for restaurants were often clearly "trade and industry" classes as judged by both course titles and course descriptions. Nutrition classes were often coded under "health," while parenting classes were coded under "personal skills." Using this taxonomy, then, the category "home economics" all but disappeared.

Education was another category which accounted for only a small percentage (2.5%) of the non-liberal arts curriculum. While community colleges tend to offer courses in early childhood education and physical education instructor training, four-year institutions are the traditional teacher-training colleges, and education courses are not often found in community colleges. Two other areas, "agriculture" and "engineering technology," also accounted for small proportions of the non-liberal arts curriculum (1.2% and 2.0% respectively). The reason for this lies partly in the fact that courses in these two areas which are considered more science-oriented were coded as liberal arts. Even when the results of the liberal arts and the non-liberal arts studies are added together, however, neither engineering nor agriculture accounts for a sizable percentage of the community college curriculum.


The non-liberal arts study has established a baseline for future CSCC studies of this area of the curriculum. But what about interdisciplinary or "integrated" courses in which both the liberal arts and non-liberal arts subject matters are taught? For the most part, these courses have been coded in the liberal arts studies under such categories as "business English" or "applied mathematics." These courses bear additional comment, however, because of their often innovative nature in providing education to community college students.

In general, community colleges have developed two types of integrated courses. The first type focuses on providing literacy or mathematics skills in occupational courses, while the second combines a regular liberal arts area such as history or biology with occupational subject matter. Examples of the first type include San Jose City College's Applied Mathematics for Electronics, the Auto Literacy Program at Yuba College in Marysville, California, and College Skills for Health Occupations Students offered at Santa Rosa Junior College (Evaluation and Training Institute, 1991).

The second type of integrated course is truly interdisciplinary in nature, in that it combines regular content from two different subject areas. Examples of this type of integrated course include "Oceans," an Oregon community college multidisciplinary course in humanities, technology, and science which is required for students in occupational fields; "Living with Technology," a California community college course giving an introduction to the history and concepts of technology; "The Individual and Technology," and "Modern Business Ethics," offered at Illinois community colleges (Cohen, 1989). Both in content and instructional methods used, these courses tend to emphasize working with others, solving problems, making decisions, and adapting to changes in the workplace (Cox and Pecorino, 1990). The Community College Humanities Association cites the ability to make value judgments, to contribute to human development and understanding, and to appreciate the variety of human purposes as among the benefits to students who complete integrated courses (Community College Humanities Association, 1991).

While it is often difficult for community college educators to find the resources and expertise necessary to develop integrated curricula, enough examples of such courses exist to indicate that efforts are being made to provide students with opportunities to experience interdisciplinary courses (see Grubb, 1992).


Studies like the CSCC's non-liberal arts study provide an indication of curricular trends. But the purpose of these studies is not merely descriptive. Current research at the CSCC is focusing on relating these trends in the curriculum to information on student and course transfer rates and minority student enrollments. Descriptions of the total community college curriculum, combined with information on student populations and transfer rates, can provide a more complete picture of the kind of education taking place in community colleges--information which may tell us which curricula are effective for various purposes.


Cohen, Arthur M. and Ignash, Jan M. (Fall 1992). "Trends in the Liberal Arts Curriculum." The Community College Review 20(2), 50-6.

Cohen, Arthur M. and Brawer, Florence B. (1987). The Collegiate Function of Community Colleges. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Community College Humanities Association and the National Council for Occupational Education, Inc. (1991). "Successfully Integrating the Humanities into Associate Degree Occupational Programs: An Implementation Manual." Philadelphia, PA: Community College Humanities Association. 101pp. (ED 330 405)

Cox, Rodney V. and Pecorino, Philip. (Summer 1990). "Successfully Integrating the Humanities into Associate Degree Occupational Programs." Journal of Studies in Technical Careers, 12(3): 221-30.

Evaluation and Training Institute. (1991). "California Community College Handbook: Teaching Basic Skills in Vocational Education. Model Programs." Los Angeles, California. (ED 335 489)

Grubb, Norton. (1992). "A Time for Every Purpose: Integrating Academic and Occupational Education in Community Colleges and Technical Institutes." Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

Lewis, Laurie L. and Farris, Elizabeth. (1990). Undergraduate Course Offerings and Enrollments in Humanities. Higher Education Surveys Report, Survey Number 11. Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc. 52pp. (ED 323 874)

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