General education competences as outcomes of two-year occupational programs: a comparison of corporate and academic views

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study investigated the views of academic personnel at, and of employers associated with, six community colleges in Virginia and West Virginia regarding the desired amount and character of general education in two-year occupational programs. Specifically, the desired amount of general education was measured as the proportion--expressed as a percentage--of the total credit hours in a program the participants would dedicate to general education, compared to amounts desired for other curriculum components. Response to the primary research question--desired character of general education--was recorded as the emphasis placed on each of several general education competences and measured as a percentage of the general education effort to be devoted to each.

Results of the analysis showed that academic personnel and employers are in substantial agreement on the amount of general education desired in a two-year occupational program--about 20-22 semester hours--and on the nature of that component: both would emphasize strongly communication skills and critical thinking and, to a lesser degree, vocational adjustment ability, mathematics skills, human relations skills, and a knowledge of science and economics. Academic personnel and employers would each place less emphasis on ethical sensitivity, knowledge of health and fitness, and political awareness. They would emphasize least a knowledge of art and literature, a global perspective, and a knowledge of history.

Employers representing manufacturing, retail sales and non-profit enterprises are in essential agreement on these points. Among academic personnel, occupational faculty, particularly in the engineering technologies, desire less general education and put more emphasis on mathematics and critical thinking skills than do general education faculty.

The study finds sufficient consensus among the groups surveyed to suggest that community colleges should move boldly forward to improve their general education programs.