I am Kent Johnson. This April, I assumed the role of Director of General Education. The current general education program, Foundation of Knowledge represents an important renewal of undergraduate education at NKU. Aligning with recent work by national higher education organizations including the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Profile and AAC&U’s Greater Expectations initiative and the subsequent Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative, Foundation of Knowledge is NKU’s interpretation of a growing national consensus of what a baccalaureate degree should prepare students to know, value and be able to do upon graduation.
The great tradition of American higher education is the emergence of the American baccalaureate. The distinct structure drew from the best of the classical liberal British model, research and inquiry focus of the German model and the utilitarian tradition of practical education unique to emerging institutions in post-colonial United States. The result was a merging of traditions to produce a degree comprised of general and specialized knowledge to prepare students for work and life after graduation. Given this history of the emergence of a distinctive American baccalaureate, it is a travesty that general education in the context of the baccalaureate degree has been devalued over time.
NKU faculty addressed the lost identity of the baccalaureate in designing a general education program specifically focused on helping students develop knowledge, skills and values essential to navigating the complexities of a society that is rapidly changing and increasingly global. The outcomes for our general education reflect the collective knowledge of our faculty and their interpretation of what students need to be successful. The outcomes and their associated courses are constructed to develop students who think critically, communicate effectively, reason scientifically, frame philosophically, reflect historically, express artistically while embracing the value of a multicultural United States and engaging globally with respect for and appreciation of differing cultural values.
Our intent and success in reframing general education to better prepare students for success after graduation has unfortunately been lost to a few of our faculty. It is not appropriate in this forum to judge the intent of those few faculty members who perpetuate conflict for the program. However, it is appropriate to respond to inaccuracies as they relate to Foundation of Knowledge.
Your recent headline “GenEd program does not meet standards” misrepresented the Department of Education findings. The findings of the Education Department are that our regional accreditor, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) is out of compliance in two areas of the Secretary of Education’s criteria for accrediting agencies as specified by the Higher Education Act as Amended, Section 602. The Higher Education Act grants the authority to accredit to the accrediting agencies with the Education Department providing approval and monitoring of accrediting agencies. Prior to implementing Foundation of Knowledge, NKU submitted the general education program to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) for review and SACS agreed that our general education program met their standards for accreditation. Specifically, the Department of Education contended that SACS failed to demonstrate it effectively applied criteria (as defined by SACS policy) requiring general education programs include “…credit hours drawn from at least one course in the humanities/fine arts as well as other areas…” and that SACS failed to review the change to general education as a substantive change. Neither of these findings implicates NKU nor do they assert that the general education program at NKU is out of compliance. SACS contends, and we agree, that Foundation of Knowledge meets their accrediting standards. The letter referenced by The Northerner, and linked in their online version clearly demonstrates that the dispute is between the Department of Education and SACS. Therefore, the headline of The Northerner on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 misrepresents the facts of the case and should be retracted.
In conclusion, as Director of General Education, my primary concern is increasing the value of the education students receive at NKU. I believe strongly that Foundation of Knowledge serves the vital role of preparing students for life and work in an increasingly complex, diverse, global and changing world. The outcomes of our general education program emphasize the knowledge and skills our graduates will need for success in the 21st Century and align with outcomes promoted by the Lumina Foundation in its Degree Profile and AAC&U in its LEAP Initiative. The continued evolution of Foundation of Knowledge and its alignment with the work students do in their majors will provide a degree that will prepare students for success after graduation.
D. Kent Johnson, PhD
Director, General Education and QEP
Northern Kentucky University