Curriculum, Coding and our Professional Responsibility: Revise Your Process

Past Curriculum Committee Chair

Faculty often consider the work of curriculum done after they have completed the Course Outline of Record and passed it off to the chair and/or dean and curriculum committee. The curriculum committee often considers their work done after technically reviewing the curriculum and voting approval to send it to the Board. What this process is likely to neglect is the importance of discipline faculty directing the coding of the course, which is the shorthand mechanism used to report curriculum to the Chancellor's Office for staffing, funding and accountability reporting. An informal survey at the Curriculum Institute showed that coding most often fell to staff members who input the course into MIS, or to the Curriculum technician, or to the CIO's secretary. Coding has been seen as an unimportant number applied to a curriculum document where the written explanation supersedes any numerical coding representation of the curriculum. But this belief is entirely wrong!

Recent reviews of the MIS database at the Chancellor's office showed that the data in the database used for determining allocations ($), staffing (FTEF), attendance reporting (FTES), mandatory reporting to the federal government (IPEDS), accountability reporting to the legislature (ARCC) and for research were not of the quality or accuracy necessary to show that faculty are doing the job of reporting curriculum accurately. Errors included coding that completely mis-categorized curriculum based on the TOPS coding (Taxonomy of program) 1 and Course Basic (CB descriptions or data elements)2. Examples of some of these errors included things such as:

  • World Religions classified as an experimental course
  • Noncredit ESL courses coded as transferable courses
  • Elementary arithmetic courses coded as degree-applicable courses

If you think this is not the case for your college, think again. A quick review indicated that no college was free of errors in one area or another. Our conclusion is that the coding process at colleges began years ago when coding had only minimal importance; they were only a way to describe the curriculum to a database in computer language. But those days are gone! The job of assigning the TOPs and CB coding often fell to the last person submitting the official curriculum documents to the Board or to the Chancellor's Office. The problem is that this final person is not a faculty discipline expert. In fact, we discovered that coding is so important and specific that in many cases even a well-informed curriculum committee member may not be qualified to correctly code a course. The person who must do this is the discipline expert, not the dean, not the curriculum chair or CIO, but the person originating the curriculum. If that originator does not understand the coding system, then we must do some professional development targeting an explanation of the coding. But ultimately, that originator needs to describe the degree applicability, course level and role of that curriculum in relation to the entire college curriculum (General Education, Program Applicability, Degree or Certificate Applicability, etc.) based on their discipline expertise and their professional understanding of the coding.

To help local senates with this task, the Academic Senate has created a curriculum coding tutorial on the ASCCC website under the Curriculum webpage that can be used by individuals or act as a source for curriculum development flex training opportunities (… and…). While it may be easy to ignore the information necessary to do this coding properly, as the importance of the coding and reporting continues to grow in importance, it is essential that colleges review their curriculum coding and correct errors and they need to train faculty discipline experts to complete these responsibilities as they develop and review curriculum and complete program review processes.

1 TOPs coding identifies the program of study such as 0401 = general biology, 1701 = mathematics, 1502 = English The program is not the one defined by your institution, but rather the program taxonomy at the Chancellor's Office. This program classification is then translated into federal program coding and data elements for national reporting.

2 Course Basic-CB codes are data elements that relate to specific course descriptions, such as: Course title (CB 02) is degree applicable (CB08), Credit status (CB 04), transfer status (CB 05), basic skills status (CB 08), repeatability (CB 12), etc