Local curriculum review and approval is among the most complicated, detail-oriented processes on college campuses. Curriculum chairs, committee members, and administrators frequently swim in minute details of state and local regulations, accreditation standards, grammar and writing standards, curriculum management systems, and articulation requirements to make good decisions and develop compliant and reasonable curriculum processes. The increasing complexity of curriculum development standards and processes often interferes with consideration of higher-level questions about how curriculum functions and serves students.
The development criteria located in the first chapter of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Program and Course Approval Handbook, or PCAH, provides a good framework for pausing and considering curriculum processes and proposals as part of a larger system within the college and in students’ educational pathways. The development criteria offers practical considerations designed to ensure that local curriculum work is holistic in scope, grounded in realistic analysis of local conditions, and geared toward meeting student needs.
Understanding and using this framework is increasingly important for colleges as the community college system shifts from centralized approval of curriculum through the Chancellor’s Office to local approval with annual certification of compliance. While most colleges use some form of the development criteria for program approval, the application to course review and approval processes is often overlooked but equally important.
The development criteria was honed over many years of work between the Chancellor’s Office, the ASCCC, chief instructional officers, and local colleges. It was endorsed by the System Advisory Committee on Curriculum—now the California Community College Curriculum Committee—as the basic framework for curriculum development and approval processes and has been included in every edition of the Program and Course Approval Handbook since the second edition in 2002. However, the basic framework and standards articulated in the criteria date back to earlier guidance for curriculum development in the community college system.
The criteria formed the basis of the old Chancellor’s Office curriculum forms—such as the CCC-510—that were required for curriculum approval prior to the introduction of the Curriculum Inventory system. The elements from the development criteria are still visible today in the narrative used for program approval and, to a lesser extent, in the curriculum inventory submission screens.
The seventh edition of the Program and Course Approval Handbook provides specific guidance to colleges for reviewing compliance with the development and approval criteria for both courses and programs. Pages 25 to 29 provide an overview of the criteria and critical questions for local curriculum committees as they exercise their responsibilities under local approval authority. These criteria and questions focus on appropriateness to mission, need, curriculum standards, adequacy of resources, and regulatory compliance.
The missions of all three sectors of public higher education in California is established in California Education Code §66010.4. In this section of state law, the mission of the California Community Colleges system is defined as providing academic and vocational instruction “through but not beyond the second year of college.” Additionally, community colleges are authorized to offer remedial instruction, ESL, and adult non-credit instruction. The missionappropriate categories of instruction are further defined in education code, Title 5, and the PCAH to include five types of curriculum: degree-applicable credit, non-degree-applicable credit, non-credit, contract education, and fee-based community service, or not-for-credit. An exception to the lower division rule is provided for colleges offering baccalaureate programs.
Local curriculum committees are responsible for ensuring that all courses recommended for approval to the local governing board fall within these parameters. This authority and responsibility can be tricky to exercise. What constitutes a lower division course is debatable and in some disciplines can vary even among baccalaureate institutions. This delineation can also change over time, necessitating periodic review. These discussions were a frequent aspect of the transfer model curriculum development process for associate degrees for transfer as the CCC and CSU system faculty attempted to draw fine distinctions between upper and lower division curriculum. Local committees are well served to establish criteria and determine sources of information that can be used to evaluate lower division course placement.
For courses and programs designed to meet other aspects of the CCC mission, including remedial and vocational curriculum as indicated in California Education Code, analyzing mission appropriateness is based more on local considerations a nd definitions. How a curriculum committee handles this critical review is a matter of local determination, but the committee must ensure that it considers mission appropriateness in the development and review process before recommending curriculum proposals to the governing board for approval.
In addition to being mission appropriate, courses and programs must also meet a demonstrated need locally. Career education programs and courses generally have need determined in consultation with employers, licensing boards, workforce development boards, and advisory committees based on labor market data. Additionally, career education programs must take into account regional demand and potential competition with similar programs at nearby colleges. Demonstrated need for pre-collegiate curriculum is derived from analysis of student populations within the college service area along with academic preparation and performance data. Transfer and general education curricula are assessed for need based on a review of student demand for courses or programs that are classified as either general education or lower division major preparation at likely transfer institutions. The local curriculum review process should include an initial assessment of need as well as an ongoing evaluation of continuing need, as general education and transfer standards can change over time.
The remaining three criteria are usually embedded in the curriculum review process at varying stages. Curriculum standards and compliance are typically embedded in the curriculum forms, local policies, and approval processes. The personnel responsible for these elements varies but may often be part of technical review or similar processes.
At many colleges, responsibility for assuring that the college has adequate resources to offer the course or program is shared among the chief instructional officer, curriculum specialists, deans, faculty department chairs, and members of technical review team. Assurance of adequate resources also means that colleges have sufficient scheduling and faculty capacity to offer the courses at least once every two years unless the needs or design of a particular program indicate that a longer rotation is in the best interest of students. This two-year scheduling requirement is included in the PCAH seventh edition on pages 27 and 28 and is aligned with accreditation requirements for assuring reasonable time to completion for all students. Inclusion in the PCAH makes this part of Title 5 regulations a “shall,” not a “should.”
The annual curriculum certification process signed by the local curriculum chair, senate president, CIO, and college president are a guarantee that all curriculum standards and regulations have been followed and reviewed in the local curriculum process before local board approval. As colleges continue moving toward more local authority for their curriculum, local standards and processes must remain robust and compliant. Achieving this goal includes using the big-picture framework for curriculum approval laid out in the development criteria.