Academic Senate

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Regarding General Education (GE) Breadth

Kevin Baaske - Academic Senate CSU (ASCSU) Senator from Los Angeles
and Member-at-Large for the ASCSU

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Regarding GE Breadth
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Why does the CSU require General Education units?
Mary Ann Creadon (Senator from Humboldt and Chair of the Chancellor’s General Education Advisory Committee) and Jodie Ulman (Senator from San Bernardino and Chair of the ASCSU Academic Affairs Committee) provided an overview to the CSU’s GE program in the last Faculty-to-Faculty newsletter (Issue 15, November, 2016).  In their major, students acquire the skills and learn the theories and methodologies utilized within that major.  In GE, students refine the skills necessary to succeed in their major and later life.  They also learn a basic understanding of how knowledge is generated in other disciplines.  This will enable them to be competent members of society.  One sage noted that the major is what one talks about at work; GE is what one talks about at lunch, dinner, and in the home.

How many units are required in GE?

Executive Order (EO) 1100 specifies that students must take a minimum of 39 lower division semester units (or their equivalent in quarter units) in order to satisfy the requirements of the CSU’s GE Breadth.  These units are broken down into five categories: (1) Area A: English Language Communication and Critical Thinking; (2) Category B: Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning; (3) Category C: Arts and Humanities; (4) Category D: Social Sciences; and (5) Category E: Lifelong Learning and Self-Development.


What about upper division units? Are they required, too?

Yes.  Nine semester units must be taken at the upper division level.  EO 1100 specifies that these units be taken at the institution granting the baccalaureate degree.


How are upper division units different from lower division units?

As is usually the case, upper division courses typically explore ideas, concepts, and theories in greater detail than lower level courses.  Since many students transfer into the CSU, it is common for CSU campuses to make use of the upper division GE courses to uniquely focus their students on specific ideas.  For example, some campuses require students to take upper division GE courses that address matters of diversity, others have created pathways that direct student attention to important matters such as sustainability, still others require that their students engage the community.  Faculty know that all of the students graduating from their campuses will have this body of knowledge because all students, native and transfer, must complete upper division GE on their campus.


What are the Basic Subjects of GE?

The Basic Subjects, also called the Golden Four, are the three courses in Category A: A1 Oral Communication, A2 Written Communication, and A3 Critical Thinking, plus B4 Mathematics Quantitative Reasoning.


Why are the Basic Subjects important?

The Basic Subjects provide all students with a foundation of skills employed in all majors and in society.  Students need to be able to communicate effectively in both written and oral modes in all of the majors.   They also need to be able to think critically and reason quantitatively.  These Golden Four subjects are the underpinning of all subsequent learning.  Most CSU students are required to complete these courses at the beginning of their academic careers.


Besides the Basic Subjects, what other areas are CSU students required to study?

It is expected that educated members of society will understand something about the natural and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities.  It is also expected that our students will become life-long learners.  Thus, all students must complete courses in these general fields.


What is meant by the term “Double Counting”?

Each campus determines if a general education course can also be used in the major and therefore count for both GE and the major.  This happens two ways.  Sometimes GE courses can be counted toward the units necessary to satisfy the requirements of a major.  Other times, the learning outcomes for a GE course can be acquired by students from a course offered in the major.  Either way, the number of courses a student actually takes to satisfy both GE and the major can be, where appropriate, reduced through double counting.


Must Community College transfer students complete GE before transferring?

In order to transfer to the CSU from a California Community College, students must have earned at least 60 semester units and must have completed the Golden Four: Oral and Written Communication, Critical Thinking and Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning.  Transfer students might have completed all of GE, but most have not.  Consequently, even though they have half the units necessary to graduate, students who transfer without completing lower division GE may need more than 60 units to graduate.


Can Community College transfer students be made to repeat Lower Division GE?

This is a bit complicated.  Generally, the answer is no.  Students who complete the entire Lower Division GE at a community college are considered GE Certified.  The receiving CSU campus must accept these students as having satisfied GE.  In such cases the CSU campus cannot hold a student to any additional lower division education requirements.  Similarly, students who have completed a category of GE, such as Category D: Social Sciences, are considered Block Certified and the receiving CSU campus must consider GE within that block as completed.  However, if a student seeks to transfer single courses within a block, the receiving campus can require that the student meet the campus specific requirements of their Lower Division GE.  For example, if a student hasn’t completed all Lower Division GE requirements, the student might be asked to complete a diversity requirement.  Most of the time the receiving CSU campus works with the student to minimize any additional coursework.


In addition, if a student has taken courses to satisfy GE, and then transfers into a major that requires other GE courses, the student might have to take additional GE courses, not to satisfy GE, but to satisfy the requirements of the major.  This can happen when a student takes, for example, mathematics for non-science majors, then seeks to major in a science.  The science faculty will tell such a student that they need to take mathematics for the sciences.


Doesn’t the STAR Act, SB 1440, require completion of GE?

Yes, but most of the students who transfer to the CSU do not have the Associate Degrees for Transfer established by community colleges and agreed to by the CSU.  Such degrees require completion of GE plus at least 18 units in the major or area of emphasis.  Students who earn Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) will only have to complete upper division GE at their CSU campus.


What about transfer between CSU campuses?

CSU policy guarantees lower division reciprocity. If one CSU designates that a student has satisfactorily completed a lower division GE requirement, the receiving CSU campus must accept this requirement as satisfied without regard to differences between the GE requirements of the campuses.


CSU policy does NOT guarantee upper division reciprocity.  Residency requirements necessitate that a student earn at least 9 semester units from the campus granting the baccalaureate and, as noted elsewhere in this FAQ, many CSU campuses utilize upper division GE courses to further specific goals that all of their students share.  Nevertheless, CSU campuses generally attempt to minimize the imposition of additional coursework.


Is there assessment for GE courses and programs?

Yes.  This happens two ways.  First, each department/division/school in the CSU undergoes regular program review.  One component of this review is documentation of assessment of the program and course specific outcomes.  This also applies to the individual GE courses offered by the program.  Second, CSU campuses systematically assess their GE program and the achievement of GE Student Learning Outcomes.  This is not only good practice; it is the kind of thing that WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC - formerly WASC) accreditation requires.


Are the Title 5 Ed Code requirements for coursework in U.S. History, Constitution and American Ideals included in GE?

No.  The Title 5 requirement that students learn about U.S. History, the U.S. constitution and American Ideals is separate from GE Breadth.  However, campuses can, if they choose, include up to 6 semester units of such courses in their GE. On such campuses, AI is part of GE. For example, on some campuses U.S. History can be used to meet the requirements of Category D: Social Sciences.  On other campuses, U.S. History might be considered a humanities course and used to satisfy Category C: Humanities.  On other campuses, AI and GE are completed separately, although on such campuses students may be permitted to double count an AI course as also satisfying GE.


Are there more questions that could have been answered in this FAQ?

Of course!  If you have additional questions, send them to this author or members of the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate CSU and perhaps we can address them in subsequent publications of this newsletter.


For more information, please contact Kevin Baaske - ASCSU Member-at-Large and Senator from CSU Los Angeles)