Beyond Efficient Curriculum Approval Processes – Timely Catalog Publication

ASCCC Curriculum Chair
ASCCC Area D Representative

The efficiency of curriculum approval at the local, regional, and state levels has been and continues to be a hot topic in the California community colleges. The report of the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy, with its focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE), includes a recommendation to “evaluate, revise, and resource the local, regional, and statewide CTE curriculum approval process to ensure timely, responsive, and streamlined curriculum approval.” 
In response to this recommendation, the ASCCC Curriculum Committee drafted a white paper on effective curriculum approval processes which was distributed to local senates in Fall 2015 and presented at the curriculum regional meetings and the ASCCC Fall Plenary session.  The ASCCC also adopted a resolution and published a Rostrum article encouraging local senates to review, evaluate, and improve their local curriculum approval processes as needed; furthermore, the Curriculum Committee is bringing forward a position paper on effective curriculum approval processes for adoption at the Spring 2016 plenary session.  

Many colleges are already examining their local approval processes and are working to shorten their curriculum approval times to a matter of weeks instead of months or years. Even with the most efficient college curriculum approval processes in place, other processes that occur after final local curriculum approval may delay the availability of new courses and programs to students.  For example, approval by the Chancellor’s Office could take several weeks, depending on how many proposals have been submitted by other colleges.  Additionally, the review of career technical education program proposals by regional consortia can add delays of several weeks or even months.  While delays because of regional and state processes are beyond the control of colleges, other local processes may delay the availability of curriculum once it is approved by the governing board. One important post-approval process that falls into this category is catalog publication.

Many colleges started reviewing their curriculum approval processes several years ago when they transitioned from paper curriculum management processes to electronic curriculum management systems. What colleges found is that processes that once took only days suddenly required months. Colleges quickly realized that by implementing their existing processes using technology, they had become less efficient. While many colleges have been able to streamline the approval through the curriculum committee, they often only went to the governing board for approval once or twice a year. This practice raised the question of why curriculum should not be forwarded to the board upon every instance of the curriculum committee or the local academic senate approving curriculum recommendations.  The answer was simple: Every course, degree, and certificate that a college offers, through credit or noncredit, must be included in the college catalog. When colleges originally developed their approval processes, those processes were designed to make certain that the governing board approval was coordinated with the publication of the next edition of the catalog. In other words, the availability of new curriculum to the students was being driven by catalog publication schedules.

Catalog production can sometimes take months, and most colleges will produce a new catalog every year or two. Title 5 §55005 requires colleges to publish course standards before a course can be offered to students, including transferability, degree applicability, and whether the course is eligible for general education. For many colleges, this information is only published in the college catalog, which means that new courses are not available to students until the new edition of the catalog is published. Therefore, while curriculum committees and academic senates streamlined their curriculum approval processes, students may have been forced to wait months or years before the new courses would be available.  Furthermore, any changes to course standards that are legally required to be published in the catalog will also face a similar publication delay, which has serious implications for students who are intending to transfer or graduate.  Finally, many colleges will not offer new degrees or certificates until they are published in the college catalog due to confusion about catalog rights, even though the course has been approved by the district governing board and the Chancellor’s Office and is listed in the Chancellor’s Office Curriculum Inventory.

While the curricular content of the college catalog is within the purview of local senates and curriculum committees, its publication is a college operational matter.  Typically, the college curriculum specialist is responsible for preparing the new catalog for publication based on an established schedule.  If the catalog publication schedule is preventing the offering of new curriculum or the dissemination of updated curricular information to students in the timeliest manner possible, then local senates should work with their college administrations to identify and implement improvements to the publication process and timeline.  Some possible solutions are as follows:

  • Producing a catalog addendum each semester.
  • Producing an online version of the college catalog that is updated each semester once all applicable course and program approvals are final.
  • Including each of the course standards information required by §55005 in each schedule of classes.

Finally, technology plays an important role in helping or hindering catalog production.  After all approvals are final, if course or program information is not entered into the curriculum management system in a timely manner, or if the curriculum management system and student information system are not communicating with each other, catalog production may be further delayed.  The ability to offer new curriculum and disseminate the correct curricular information should never be driven by technology.  Rather, the technology should be adapted to the needs of the college to properly serve its students.  If issues with the curriculum technology are causing delays in offering new curriculum, then local senates should work with their administrations to identify solutions. 

Curriculum is the heart of the college. Faculty develop and revise curriculum to meet the needs of their students, and students are right to expect that their colleges will do everything possible to ensure the additions and revisions to the curriculum are implemented. Publishing the college catalog on an annual or biannual basis does not serve students well.  Such a publication schedule limits access to new courses and programs and prevents important changes to information about transferability, degree applicability, and general education applicability from being published and available to students and transfer institutions. As local senates continue to refine their local curricular processes, they also need to be mindful of the catalog publication process.  If the catalog publication process is delaying the offering of new curriculum, then local senates need to work with administrators to identify and implement solutions to ensure that newly approved and revised courses and programs are offered to students as soon as possible.