Academic Affairs Updates from the Office of the Provost: NJCU’s General Education Program

April 27, 2023
Students at a computer

Dear Members of the NJCU Community:

This week, we announced the introduction of the New Jersey City University Recovery and Revitalization PlanA Framework for Long-Term Financial Sustainability, Mission Focus, and Student Success. As introduced on page nine of this framework for our future, NJCU's General Education curriculum is a vital part of the student experience. In collaboration with our University Senate, the University is now poised to adopt the most significant overhaul of its general education curriculum in decades. 

As with all colleges and universities, general education provides a broader disciplinary context within which students can see and understand their majors. According to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), general education introduces students to new intellectual experiences and ensures that students can demonstrate essential intellectual skills related to communication, reasoning, analysis, and literacy. 

However, for students to complete their degrees in a timely manner, access and ability to complete general education requirements are essential. This is particularly true of students who are transferring to NJCU.

According to Monagham & Attewell, losing credits when transferring to a four-year institution decreases the likelihood of graduation. Kadlec & Gupta concur. When students are forced to use transfer credits as electives, they struggle to complete their degrees in a timely manner. Reeper & Grote examine the factors that impact transfer student completion using a curricular complexity framework, and they identify obstacles that already exist for transfer students including the timing of the courses offered and the number of prerequisite courses that control what students can take in each semester. 

The challenges faced by transfer students must be managed on top of those imposed by restrictive general education programs, and they often result in even more delays and a greater likelihood that students will not complete their degrees.

It is understandable that academic programs maintain prerequisites. As such, we know that our students will have some restrictions on the courses they can take in a specific semester. By making our general education program more flexible, students can complete those requirements in a more flexible fashion and with more choices. Further, they can get credit for coursework they have completed elsewhere so they have additional opportunities each semester to focus on their majors.

Reducing obstacles for students in general education does not lower our standards; creating space to mirror the general education program found in community colleges does not make us a community college.

The general knowledge that students achieve from their general education curriculum — whether it is from NJCU or from a community college — becomes the foundation that helps students see their worlds in a larger context. It helps them to ascertain their needs more clearly and to see how knowledge and skills achieved through other disciplines strengthen their ability to ask bigger questions and to communicate more effectively. The sum intellectual total of knowledge, skills, and outcomes achieved through general education are not, as Dewey notes, “a fixed possession.” Instead, they are “an agency and instrumentality for opening new fields (p. 90).” To that end, we need to create as many ways as we can to achieve this broad disciplinary perspective so that we can help our students use that enlarged understanding to achieve their academic and professional goals. 

Dewey writes a great deal about educational experiences. He also warns against what he calls “mis-educative experiences.” For Dewey, a mis-educative experience is anything that stands in the way of intellectual, personal, or professional growth.

We need to ask ourselves if the experiences of transfer students who must navigate our current general education program are mis-educative because students are more focused on the challenges of scheduling and understanding the tiers than being focused on the content of our courses. Instead, our students should use the knowledge and skills they have achieved from their varied general education courses to enhance their growth and understanding within their fields of study.

The general education program reform proposed by the General Education Committee provides the opportunity for transfer students to progress to degree completion in a timely manner while maintaining academic standardsThis creates an opportunity for reform which will make NJCU a state-wide leader as the most transfer-friendly public university in the state. Yes, this would help us financially, because it would help us reclaim the transfer market that we have lost in recent years. Even more importantly, it would help our students. 

The proposed overhaul will allow every course on the approved New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) list, including those without direct equivalencies, to be accepted at NJCU for general education credit. In an era where higher education must be willing to adapt and change, NJCU will become the only four-year institution in New Jersey to do this.

In Child and the Curriculum, Dewey argues that the child should be the center of gravity around which the curriculum evolves. The same can be said of our students. When the center of gravity influencing our curriculum decisions becomes something other than our students, then we fail to live up to our mission. Our students and our curriculum should be, as Dewey describes, “two limits which define a single process (p. 189).” I believe the proposed revisions to the general education curriculum achieve this. 


Donna Adair Breault, Ph.D.
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs
New Jersey City University