Reviewing, Evaluating and Improving the Curriculum Process – A Local Academic Senate Responsibility

ASCCC Curriculum Committee Chair

Recent efforts to address projected workforce needs in California have highlighted the central role of the California community colleges in meeting these needs through their career and technical education (CTE) programs.  The commissioning of the Task Force for Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy (Workforce Task Force) by the Board of Governors in November of 2014 made CTE a top priority for the Chancellor’s Office.  The release in August 2015 of the Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation, and a Strong Economy: Report and Recommendations[1] and its subsequent adoption by the Board of Governorsin November 2015 is the culmination of the first phase of an effort improve the way the community colleges are meeting the needs of industry.  The task force report includes twenty-five recommendations, six of which are directly related to curriculum.

Some critics of the community college system claim that local curriculum development and approval processes are slow and cumbersome and prevent CTE programs from meeting the rapidly changing needs of industry and therefore need to be radically revised.  In fact, one of the recommendations from the Workforce Task Force directly addresses this perception:

8. Evaluate, revise and resource the local, regional, and statewide CTE curriculum approval process to ensure timely, responsive, and streamlined curriculum approval.

a. Provide state-level coordination to ensure a streamlined curriculum approval process at the Chancellor’s Office.

b. Provide sufficient staffing and resources in the Chancellor’s Office to accelerate the state-level curriculum approval process.

c. Identify and disseminate effective practices in local curricula adoption and revision processes and provide technical assistance for faculty and colleges.

Recommendation 8(c), in particular, relates directly to the mission of the ASCCC in its role as the official voice of the faculty of the California Community Colleges in academic and professional matters. 

In response to 8(c), and as directed by Resolution 9.01 S15[2], the drafting of a paper on effective practices for local curriculum approval was given the highest priority by the ASCCC Curriculum Committee and will be brought for approval to the Spring 2016 Plenary Session for adoption.  The paper will incorporate recommendations provided in Ensuring Effective and Efficient Curriculum Processes – An Academic Senate White Paper[3]on reviewing local curriculum processes and implementing effective practices for streamlining local curriculum approval processes without sacrificing quality. It will also expand on the contents of the white paper by providing guidance on various levels of professional development for college constituencies on the curriculum process and on advocating for sufficient resources to support the local curriculum approval process.

Soon after the release of the final draft of the Workforce Task Force report in August 2015, the ASCCC Executive Committee recognized the need for the Curriculum Committee to respond quickly to recommendation 8(c).  Subsequently, the Curriculum Committee drafted Ensuring Effective and Efficient Curriculum Processes, which was approved by the Executive Committee at its October 2-3, 2015 meeting and subsequently disseminated to the field as an intermediate step in meeting this recommendation of the Workforce Task Force.  Subsequently, at the Fall 2015 Plenary Session, the delegates adopted Resolution 9.08 F15[4] in which local senates and curriculum committees are strongly urged “to evaluate their curriculum approval processes in order to ensure that curriculum is developed, revised, and implemented in a timely manner, while preserving the integrity and rigor of the review process.” While the white paper does not represent an official position of the Academic Senate because it was not voted on or approved by the delegates, it does represent the best advice of the Executive Committee to local senates on what they can do now to start evaluating and improving, as needed, their local curriculum processes.

Ensuring Effective and Efficient Curriculum Processes providesadvice on how local senates and curriculum committees can start immediately to address recommendation 8(c) of the Workforce Task Force.  Local senates are reminded of the legal role and authority of the curriculum committee, the importance of working collaboratively with administrators and students in the curriculum development process, the appropriate role of administrators, and the authority of the governing board.  The paper provides guidance on how to review and evaluate local curriculum processes in order to identify any needed improvements, which includes important questions to ask when conducting the review and evaluation and a reminder of the importance of involving key individuals such as the curriculum specialist, articulation officer, academic administrators including the CTE dean, and student representatives in the review and evaluation process.  Finally, the paper offers effective practices for improving local curriculum processes, including recommendations for ensuring that the process is clear, ensuring technical review is efficient and effective, ensuring that curriculum committee meetings are run efficiently, ensuring that the overall approval curriculum process is streamlined, including recognizing the unique needs of CTE, increasing the frequency of curriculum committee and governing board approvals, and consideration of giving colleges in multi-college districts full autonomy over their curriculum.  The contents of Ensuring Effective and Efficient Curriculum Processes will be incorporated into the position paper that will be brought to the Spring 2016 Plenary Session for adoption.

The recommendations of the Workforce Task Force will likely increase both external and internal pressure on colleges to revise their processes in order to ensure that curriculum, particularly CTE curriculum, is approved quickly. Colleges may even be pressured to create separate CTE curriculum processes that encourage expediency over quality and minimize the role of faculty discipline experts, which, of course, would be unacceptable.  Governing boards, which represent the community, and industry partners will want to see action, and they will need to be reminded that curriculum is a matter of local senate purview within the 10+1 and that this purview extends not only to course and program content but also to curriculum policies and procedures.  Therefore, local senates must be prepared to assert their authority and take the professional responsibility to lead the review and improvement of their local curriculum processes as soon as possible. Local senates and curriculum committees need to demonstrate that through these bodies community college faculty can provide the leadership needed to take all necessary action to improve their curriculum processes while ensuring quality and rigor in order to more effectively respond to the both the needs of industry partners and the needs of the students the California community colleges serve.

[1] Local senate presidents and curriculum chairs should review these recommendations and engage in local conversations with their administrations about how these recommendations may be addressed at the local level.  The report is available at