Effective and Efficient Local Curriculum Approval Processes

ASCCC Secretary and Curriculum Chair
ASCCC Treasurer and Past Curriculum Chair

At the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Spring 2016 Plenary Session, the delegates approved the paper Ensuring Effective Curriculum Approval Processes:  A Guide for Local Senates.   This paper was created to assist curriculum committees, faculty, and other interested stakeholders in streamlining local curriculum approval processes, and it contains a number of effective practices colleges can implement.

First, local senates, curriculum committees, and other campus groups should look at the process timeline.  If a college’s curriculum approval process takes more than three months from submission to the local curriculum committee to action by the governing board, the local academic senate might consider leading a review of the process to identify practices to make the curriculum approval process more efficient and effective.  In this first stage, curriculum committees and others can identify needed or suggested changes.  For example, review of processes might identify unnecessary or redundant steps relative to what is required by Title 5. The college could consider questions such as whether some steps might be eliminated without unintended consequence, whether some steps could be done simultaneously, and whether technology-related issues might be impacting curriculum approval.   This review would also be an opportunity to determine whether the local process has too much focus on compliance and bureaucratic details that hinder curriculum approval, regardless of the quality of proposals.

In order to make certain that the process for initiating curriculum is clear, a comprehensive curriculum handbook is a must.  Any college that does not have a handbook should consider looking at models from other colleges.  Colleges that do have handbooks should make certain that they are up-to-date and have a curriculum calendar or a process flow chart that clearly presents important due dates and illustrates the process from initiation to approval.  Another helpful tool is a curriculum website that allows easy access to local, district, and statewide curriculum resources.

The curriculum technical review process should be streamlined and effective.  Pre-review steps, such as having curriculum committee members help faculty by screening curriculum submissions for completeness before full technical review occurs, can help save time once the curriculum is formally submitted.  Colleges could also consider making technical review simultaneous with curriculum proposal development.  Another possibility is to limit the technical review committee to the most critical individuals and allow them to conduct their review simultaneously rather than sequentially.  Finally, the technical review process could be revamped to allow minor changes to courses and programs to undergo an expedited or streamlined technical review, based on locally established criteria, rather than a full technical review.

Second, curriculum committees should work to ensure that they are operating in the most efficient manner possible.  Curriculum chairs can aid in this process by creating well-organized agendas that includes pertinent meeting information, and potentially, depending on local practice, using a consent agenda for non-substantive changes to curriculum and handling typographical and other minor errors outside of meetings. In addition, backlog and time for approval might be reduced by ensuring that detailed review of new curriculum occurs during the first reading and considering the use of a consent calendar for approval at the second reading.  Curriculum chairs could potentially assign several curriculum committee members to each proposal as readers in order to provide prepared responses and guidance to the curriculum developers; curriculum committee members might also be given access to the curriculum management system, allowing them to make reviewer comments prior to the first reading. Finally, if local process permits, curriculum committees could allow CTE proposals that are the result of statutory or external accreditation requirements to be approved after a first reading by the curriculum committee.

Third, practices regarding course approval could be streamlined to become more effective.  One way to accomplish this goal is to give curriculum committees full authority to make recommendations directly to the governing board without intermediate approval steps; while other entities must be informed of proposed curricular decisions or changes, including the academic senate, the vice-president of instruction, the college president and others, the curriculum committee can make recommendations directly to the governing board if allowed by local process.  The local curriculum committee can also be granted the authority to approve locally defined non-substantive changes to courses and programs without any additional local approvals, which would limit curriculum submissions to the governing board to approval of new courses and programs or major course changes.

For career technical education programs, Title 5 requires regional consortia to provide a recommendation regarding approval.  To accelerate this process, new CTE program proposals can be submitted to the relevant regional consortium prior to or simultaneously with submission to the curriculum committee for local program approval and prior to submission to the governing board.[1]  Curriculum committees can expedite technical review for course revisions that only involve changes to certain course attributes or for changes to courses and programs that are required by statute or external accreditation.

Finally, multi-college districts can benefit from certain additional effective practices.  One example is to consider giving college curriculum committees the authority to grant final approval for adoption of courses at one college that already exist within the district. Colleges can also consider giving colleges in multi-college districts autonomy over their curriculum.  This practice could be established by eliminating district-wide approval or requirements for achieving consensus among the colleges in the district, giving each college in the district full autonomy over its curriculum, including attributes such as units and contact hours, and using C-ID or articulation agreements as means to ensure a measure of alignment of curriculum rather than using rigid district-wide alignment requirements.

Not all of these practices will work at all colleges.  Since curriculum policies and procedures are collectively an academic and professional matter, any of these actions must be considered and recommended by the local senate at the college and district.  For more detailed examples of effective processes and guides for local senates and curriculum committees, please see the full Academic Senate paper Ensuring Effective Curriculum Approval Processes:  A Guide for Local Senates, available at ASCCC.org.

[1]  Regional consortia establish their own procedures for submission and review of new program proposals.  Be sure to check the requirements of the regional consortium to determine if it does allow submissions of proposals prior to local curriculum committee or governing board approval.