General education for the 21st century: a quest for common principles

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University of Alabama Libraries

In the early years of the 21st century, general education programs in U.S. postsecondary institutions stand at the center of multiple competing pressures, from demands for accountability to calls for increasing assurances of articulation across institutions. Complicating potential responses to these normative pressures is the challenge inherent in adapting any curricular component to fit the institution in which it is implemented. A curricular component that must be both stable and harmonious within the academy yet responsive to the broader sociopolitical context, general education must encompass courses that reflect the institution's mission and its faculty strengths while simultaneously responding to the need for articulation across institutions as well as the needs of the community. In approaching general education reform, administrators and faculty typically follow one of two strategies: select from the de facto general education models of the 20th century, or emulate general education programs at institutions perceived to be at the forefront of general education praxis. In neither case is there clear evidence that those involved in general education design have consulted the body of scholarship dedicated to general education ideology. Nor has there been a recent analysis of such scholarship to determine current dominant trends in the national discourse on general education. Since 1990, numerous U.S. colleges and universities have undertaken costly and time-consuming reforms of their general education programs. To inform future general education reforms and to contribute to the understanding of priorities in general education in the early 21st century, this qualitative study reports on a documentary analysis of general education scholarship in The Journal of General Education from 1990 to 2011. The study reports dominant thematic trends in general education scholarship, considers the relevance of those trends in light of their resonance with a 20th-century general education paradigm, and makes recommendations regarding praxis as administrators and faculty approach the task of general education reform across the range of institutional contexts represented on the current stage of U.S. higher education. Recommendations include the use of scholarship as a source of organizing principles to guide efficient and effective general education reform.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Higher education, Education policy, Curriculum development