ERIC Identifier: ED285609
Publication Date: 1987-01-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los
A Descriptive Analysis of the Community College Liberal Arts
Curriculum. ERIC Digest.
Since its establishment in 1974, the Center for the Study of Community
Colleges has periodically examined two-year college liberal arts curricula,
including course offerings in the humanities, the sciences, and the social
sciences. In its most recent study, Center staff analyzed the Spring 1986 class
schedules of 95 randomly selected two-year institutions to determine the types
of liberal arts courses offered by the colleges and to spot changes in the
curriculum since the completion of similar studies in 1975, 1977, 1978, and
1983. This ERIC Digest draws upon the 1986 study to examine the status of the
liberal arts curriculum, focusing on (1) the types of courses most frequently
offered, (2) the stability of the curriculum over time, and (3) the structure of
the curriculum in terms of introductory versus advanced classes.
COURSE OFFERINGS IN THE LIBERAL ARTS
In the curriculum
study, Center staff counted the class sections offered in each of several
disciplines within the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.
Findings reveal that the disciplines were distributed as follows:
oo The humanities made up 48 percent of the total liberal arts
curriculum. English composition was the humanities
discipline with the greatest number of class sections,
followed (in order of relative magnitude) by the fine and
performing arts, foreign language, history, literature, art
history, philosophy, music appreciation, cultural
anthropology, and interdisciplinary humanities.
oo The sciences made up 43 percent of all liberal arts class
sections. Mathematics (including computer science) was the
largest discipline within the sciences, followed (in order
of relative magnitude) by psychology, biology, engineering
chemistry, physics, agriculture, earth and space science,
and environmental sciences.
oo the social sciences made up only eight percent of total
liberal arts classes. Sociology was the largest social
science discipline, followed by economics, political
science, and interdisciplinary social science.
oo Together, mathematics and English composition made up 41
percent of all liberal arts courses. The large number of
class sections devoted to these disciplines reflects the
importance of writing and mathematics skills to student
success in all areas of study.
The class schedules were also analyzed in terms of the percentage of colleges
offering courses in specific areas. Findings reveal that:
oo English, mathematics, history, biology, chemistry,
psychology, economics, and sociology, were offered at 90
percent or more of the colleges;
oo Political science and literature were offered at 86 percent
and 87 percent of the colleges, respectively;
oo Foreign language, philosophy, art history, engineering, and
earth science were offered at 70 to 79 percent of the
oo Interdisciplinary humanities, music history and
appreciation, agriculture, and interdisciplinary social
sciences are offered at only 50 to 59 percent of the
colleges. One subject, cultural anthropology, was offered by only 48 percent
of the colleges.
CHANGES IN THE LIBERAL ARTS CURRICULUM OVER TIME
data are compared with earlier studies conducted by the Center, few substantive
changes are observed in the relative positions of these major disciplines, both
in terms of class sections offered and the percentage of colleges which offer
them. Overall, the liberal arts curriculum is relatively stable, testimony to
its endurance at the community college despite the expansion of vocational and
other noncollegiate programming.
Two notable changes, however, occurred within the disciplines, revealing the
adaptability of the curriculum to emerging needs. In mathematics, courses for
specific majors (such as "Mathematics for Business") decreased significantly,
while the number of computer science courses increased. In foreign languages,
English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes grew dramatically. Accounting for
only 30 percent of all foreign language classes in 1978, they accounted for 43
percent in 1986. Today ESL is the largest single second language category,
outranking even Spanish. The growth in the number of computer science and ESL
courses is the most dramatic change in an otherwise stable curriculum.
INTRODUCTORY VERSUS ADVANCED CLASSES
within disciplines also reveal that the liberal arts curriculum has a flat
structure, characterized by an abundance of introductory survey courses and a
relatively small number of more advanced courses at the sophomore level. This is
especially true in mathematics and English. Nineteen percent of all mathematics
classes (excluding computer science) are at the remedial (pre-algebra) level,
and 47 percent are at the introductory or intermediary levels (algebra through
trigonometry). Thirty percent of all English composition courses can be
characterized as remedial, and 60 percent of all literature courses are
introductory survey classes as opposed to courses on specific genres or authors.
Introductory, survey courses are predominant in many other fields as well,
including physics (52 percent introductory), psychology (49 percent
introductory), chemistry (67 percent introductory), sociology (56 introductory),
and music and art history (over 80 percent introductory). In history and
political science, half of the courses offered (54 and 53 percent respectively)
are introductory classes covering the broad topics of American History or the
American political system.
Much of the liberal arts curriculum, then, is designed either for remediation
or as introductions to broad disciplines. Those courses that do present more
specialized material often serve vocational curricula. Engineering is an extreme
example. Only four percent of community college engineering classes are general
or introductory in nature; most are more specialized courses--such as
electronics, engineering graphics, or mechanical engineering--that serve the
needs of students in various vocational programs. Other examples of liberal arts
classes that serve occupational disciplines are (1) applied writing courses,
such as "Writing for Business"; (2) applied mathematics courses, such as
"Algebra for Technicians"; (3) science courses--such as pharmacology,
biochemistry, microbiology, and anatomy--that serve nursing and other allied
health students; (4) computer science courses that serve all vocational areas;
and (5) other humanities and social science courses--such as ethics , social
problems, or constitutional law--that prepare students for law enforcement and
other business and technological areas.
The significant number of courses serving a vocational clientele demonstrates
that community college liberal arts programs develop along their own lines in
ways that are quite different from curricula at four-year college and
universities. Though baccalaureate-granting institutions exert a significant
influence on community college liberal arts curricula, vocational programs have
also helped shape their development. It is thus inaccurate to use the phrase
"liberal arts curriculum" interchangeably with the phrase "transfer curriculum."
Data collected in the 1985 curriculum study reveal several characteristics of
the liberal arts as they developed at community colleges:
oo The liberal arts classes most commonly offered are English, mathematics, history, biology, chemistry, psychology, economics, and sociology.
oo The liberal arts classes least commonly offered are in agriculture, anthropology, music history and appreciation, and interdisciplinary social sciences and humanities.
oo Spanish and English-as-a-Second-Language account for nearly three-fourths of all language study, with ESL showing a phenomenal increase in recent years.
oo Computer science courses have also grown rapidly.
oo Remedial English and mathematics have grown quite prominent, accounting for 20 to 30 percent of all offerings in those disciplines.
oo Introductory courses predominate. Those courses that are more specialized usually serve the needs of students in technical or allied health programs. REFSmFurther information on this and
other studies of the liberal arts curriculum will be presented in the
forthcoming book, The Collegiate Dimension of Community Colleges by Arthur M.
Cohen and Florence B. Brawer, to be published by Jossey-Bass, Inc., in the
summer of 1987.