ERIC Identifier: ED438011
Publication Date: 2000-2-00
Author: Jenny Castruita Striplin
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges
A Review of Community College Curriculum Trends
Approximately 50 percent of all students who enter postsecondary education
enroll in community colleges. Consequently, reviewing the characteristics
of the community college curriculum is paramount to understanding the role
these institutions play in shaping students' trajectories. To accomplish
this task, it is imperative to track curricular changes as they occur in
community colleges. This Digest will highlight major findings from the
1998 Curriculum Project, which was conducted by the Center for the Study
of Community Colleges (CSCC) and reported in the New Directions for Community
Colleges volume entitled Trends in Community College Curriculum. Periodically,
the CSCC surveys the curriculum of our nation's community colleges. The
prior study was conducted in 1991. For the 1998 study, 164 public community
colleges submitted their spring catalogues and schedules. Using student
enrollments, the colleges were divided into categories of small (< 2,748),
medium (2,749-6,140), and large (> 6141). A previously developed coding
scheme was applied to track 36 liberal arts and 26 non-liberal arts subjects.
The college catalogues and schedules of classes from the sample institutions
were coded and tabulated along with enrollment figures.
An Overview of the Community College Curriculm
* Fifty-four percent of the course sections in the community college
curriculum were in liberal arts.
* As defined by the institutions, 7 percent of for-credit course sections
in the total sample were remedial. The percentages of English and Math
courses at the remedial level were 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
* Overall, 74 percent of liberal arts courses and 34 percent of non-liberal
arts courses were transferable to in-state four-year public institutions.
* Computer science showed the greatest increase in percentage of enrollment.
In the 1991 study, 2 percent of students enrolled in computer science.
In comparison, this percentage ascended to 4 percent in the 1998 study.
* This study supported the claim that community colleges offer small
class sizes; in fact, many academic categories showed small decreases in
average class size between 1991 and 1998.
* Although the number of students enrolled in 1998 was comparable to
1991 study, approximately 30,000 more course sections were offered.
The Liberal Arts
* The humanities, mathematics, science, social science, and fine and
performing arts composed the liberal arts.
* In 1998, a higher percentage of colleges offered instruction in each
of the 12 disciplines within the humanities.
* Over the years, the sciences have fluctuated in terms of percentages
of colleges offering courses and the percentage of enrollment. Biology
was the most popular science subject with 100 percent of the colleges offering
at least one course in this field.
* The percentages of English and social science courses offered exhibit
* Between 1991 and 1998, one of the greatest shifts occurred in fine
and performing arts, with the percentage of colleges offering these classes
Non-liberal Arts Curriculum
* Results from both the 1991 and 1998 surveys indicated that the non-liberal
arts curriculum accounted for less than 50 percent of the total community
* In colleges where a high proportion of liberal arts courses are accepted
by universities, a similarly high proportion of non-liberal arts courses
* In 1998, at least 90 percent of the community colleges offered classes
in business and office skills, marketing and distribution, health sciences,
computer applications, and education.
General Education Requirements
* A statement of the objectives of general education was included in
more than half of the colleges' catalogues.
* Distribution requirements, the dominant forms of general education
requirements, were part of the largest proportion of academic degree programs
(69%) and a significant proportion of occupational degree programs (29%).
* Acquiring basic academic skills, especially composition and mathematics,
was highly represented in statements of general education objectives for
both academic and occupational degrees.
* Seventy-six percent of the schools required some computer literacy
course in the transfer degree programs, while 86 percent required it for
the nontransfer degree programs.
* Overall, interdisciplinary courses constituted one percent of the
total community college curriculum and just under two percent of the liberal
* More than half of the colleges offered some type of interdisciplinary
course in the sciences, ranging from one to twenty sections.
* Fifty-six interdisciplinary courses were offered as distance education
courses, using television, the Internet, and video as modes of delivery.
* From 1991 to 1998, the average number of interdisciplinary courses
offered per institution increased from 4 to 5.
* Of the 164 institutions studied, 36 percent offered honors programs
to their students.
* Colleges with either larger enrollments or a higher proportion of
transfer courses were more likely to offer honors courses.
* A negative relationship was found between the proportion of some minority
groups and the availability of an honors program.
English as a Second Language
* A 15 percent increase in ESL course offerings was found, indicating
that ESL programs still comprise a growing element of the community college
* Institutional size played an important role in ESL course availability.
Of the large community colleges with enrollment greater than 6,141, more
than half offered more than 20 ESL courses.
* Geographic location of the institution also influenced the number
of ESL courses offered: the Western, Midwestern, and Middle Atlantic states
accounted for 71 percent of the ESL curriculum.
* At two colleges, each of which reported having a large ESL program,
ESL courses made up more than 14 percent of all available courses.
* In 1998 the percentage of colleges offering ethnic studies rose to
26 percent following a decline from 1975 (15 percent) to 1991 (9 percent).
* The ways in which multicultural courses meet the general education
requirements varied from institution to institution.
* Overall, the number of courses offered and the number of students
enrolled in multicultural courses were relatively small.
* 128 colleges (78%) offered at least one distance education course.
The number of courses ranged from 1 to 67, with an average of 20 distance
education classes per institution.
* Only 2 percent of the 139,083 courses were offered through distance
* There was a direct relationship between the total number of distance
education courses and college enrollment.
* The highest percentage of distance education classes was in the social
sciences (i.e. economics, history, psychology, sociology, and political
science) and the lowest percentage in biological sciences and foreign languages.
The findings from this study offered a look into the status of the national
community college curriculum. Community colleges offer unique courses,
but many curricular trends span across institutional boundaries. Although
ESL and distance education have increased, the traditional liberal arts
curriculum is relatively stable.
This Digest is drawn from: "Trends in Community College Curriculum."
New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 108, Gwyer Schuyler, Ed.,
Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, Winter 1999:
Brawer, F. B. The liberal arts. (pp. 17-30).
Kozeracki, C. A. Scratching the surface: Distance education in the community
colleges. (pp. 89-98).
Kuo, E. W. English as a second language in the community college curriculum.
Outcalt, C. The importance of community college honors programs. (pp.
Palmer, J. A statistical portrait of the non-liberal arts curriculum.
Piland, W. E., Piland, A., & Hess, S. Status of multicultural education
in the curriculum. (pp. 81-88). Schuyler, G. A historical and contemporary
view of the community college curriculum. (pp. 3-16).
Walker, A. A. Interdisciplinary studies in the community colleges. (pp.
Zeszotarksi, P. Dimensions of general education requirements. (pp. 39-48).