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3.5.1 College-level Competencies

The institution identifies college-level general education competencies and the extent to which graduates have attained them.

Judgment of Compliance

PVAMU SACS Accreditation - Judgement Compliance

Narrative of Compliance

As a land-grant institution "designated as a statewide special purpose institution of higher education," Prairie View A&M University reaches out to students of varied backgrounds, providing educational opportunities to traditionally underserved students [1] [2] [3]. The University embraces the challenge of educating and serving a diverse ethnic and socioeconomic student population that may have academic deficiencies as well as the population entering with adequate or better preparation. While academic enhancement programs [4] and/or appropriate developmental education courses [5] are offered to alleviate academic deficiencies, the University Scholars programs [6] as well as special leadership training programs [7] are offered for high achieving and highly motivated students. Preparing students, a significant proportion of which are first generation, for entry into careers is the major outcome expectation of the undergraduate educational program [2].

College Readiness for the Core Curriculum
In its 2004 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) report on the core curriculum, the University noted that the vast majority of its "students come from low income families. Annual incomes below $15K are not uncommon. In fact, forty percent come from families whose annual income is below $20K" [8]. Indeed, four years later in 2006, approximately 17.9% of first-time full-time freshmen at the University thought their parents' total income before taxes was less than $10,000 [9]. Many of these entering freshmen are first generation students as well. According to the Legislative Board Budget (LBB) Performance Measures Report, over half (and as high as 57%) of the University's baccalaureate degree graduates are first generation college students [10]. Given normal attrition, the percent of first generation enrollees is naturally higher. Many of these students enter still in need of developmental education before they can start on college-level coursework. Self-reported data on the 2000 CIRP indicate that 12.1% of our freshmen have had special tutoring or remedial work in reading, while 18.5% have had the same in mathematics [11]. THECB numbers indicate a higher percentage of students enter below state standards than self reporting data might indicate. Of the 1,611 entering freshmen in 2004, for example, 58% entered below the state standard in mathematics, 42% below in reading, and 35% in writing [12]. The number of students in developmental education courses in mathematics, reading, and English is also very high: 1,620 in the fall of 2006, and as high as 1,804 in the fall of 2005 [13].

A large part of the academic support for entering first-generation students comes from University College and its developmental education program. In 1999 Dr. Hunter Boylan, founder of the National Center for Developmental Education, conducted an evaluation of Prairie View A&M's program. A learning frameworks course, CURR 1013, was developed for conditionally admitted students to study learning strategies, critical thinking, personality types, and self-realization and cognition concepts. Academic Enhancement presently offers nine other developmental education courses, three each in the TSI areas of English, reading, and mathematics [5]. Students demonstrate their college readiness by one of two paths: 1) finally receiving the minimum passing score on the appropriate TSI subject area test (students are re-tested regularly), or 2) completing the developmental course sequence and then passing a selected 1000-level class, such as MATH 1133: College Algebra for those in developmental mathematics coursework, with a "C" or better. Until students fulfill all three components of the TSI requirement, they are prohibited from taking any classes above the sophomore level. This helps to ensure that students have the fundamentals and are college-ready.

The Core Curriculum and Identified College-Level Competencies
The central mission of the Prairie View A&M University core curriculum is "to develop in each undergraduate student the capability to perform effectively in academic and professional settings" [14]. Specifically, the "general education curriculum is designed to provide students a foundation in the broad knowledge and skills which will enhance study in the major areas; to prepare students to change and grow with their own needs and the needs of society; and to enable students to function as contributing members of a democratic society and of the global community" [15]. A rationale for courses in each area of the core and the required semester credit hours for each area are given in the 2004 THECB report [16], and areas outside of the "True Core" are included.

Each component area of the core is linked to University Exemplary Objectives through a written rationale disseminated in the Undergraduate Course Catalog [17]. In these statements, major outcomes are identified, based on the Exemplary Educational Objectives given by the Texas Higher Educational Coordinating Board to help guide curriculum development and assessment [17] [18]:

Communications (Composition, Speech, Modern Language)

  • to communicate effectively in clear and correct prose in a style appropriate to the subject, occasion, and audience.

Mathematics

  • to apply basic mathematic tools in the solutions of real-world problems.

Natural Sciences

  • to understand, construct, and evaluate empirical relationships in the natural sciences, and to enable the student to understand the bases for theory-building and testing.

Humanities and Fine Arts

  • to expand students' knowledge of the human condition and human cultures, especially in relation to behavior, ideas, and values expressed in works of human imagination and thought. Through study in disciplines such as literature, philosophy, and fine arts, students will engage in critical analysis.

Social and Behavioral Science

  • to discover, describe, and explain the behaviors and interactions among individuals, groups, institutions, events, and ideas.

Computing (Computer Literacy)

  • to use computer technology to communicate, solve problems, and acquire information.

Core Curriculum Competencies Assessment
To assess the extent to which our graduates have attained the general education competencies, the University has relied on a variety of external testing instruments and surveys. In 2001 and 2004, selected freshmen and juniors took the ETS (General Education Battery) Academic Profile. In 2001, freshmen had a mean of 422, compared to juniors with a mean of 446. Although not substantially higher, the juniors who had been exposed to the core curriculum scored 22 points higher than freshmen. The juniors in 2004 scored 10 points higher than freshmen [19]. Although the academic performance of these students is below the performance of their counterparts in Comprehensive Institutions, the data indicate gains following exposure to the core.

The ETS Academic Profile also evaluated the extent to which students had attained general education competencies in component areas of our core, including communication, mathematics, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences [19]. Freshmen scores in both 2001 and 2004 were below the comprehensive institution mean scores, but given the mission of the University as a "special purpose institution" that reaches out to an underserved population, the results are not entirely surprising. The 2004 freshman class scored slightly closer to the comprehensive means. Junior scores in 2004 indicated gains in all skills dimensions and academic area sub scores compared with freshman entering without core exposure. If 2001 freshmen are assumed to be 2004 juniors, a gain was made especially in the "True Core" area of reading, moving from 109 to 116, but mathematics also rose from 109 to 112, and writing from 109 to 113. When comprehensive freshmen and juniors are compared in the same areas, the University scores reveal a stronger "value added" component to its core curriculum, including areas of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Assuming again that 2001 freshmen are 2004 juniors, students moved from 107 to 112 in humanities, 107 to 110 in social sciences, and 109 to 112 in natural sciences. In the 2004 THECB report, however, the University noted its disappointment with these scores, but went on to say that without a strong reading ability, students would show only slight gains [20]. The areas of the "True Core" needed to be assessed and addressed more fully.

Although scores were not as strong as the University would have liked, data from the 2004 and 2005 Core Proficiency Surveys, which are fully aligned with every Exemplary Educational Objective given by the THECB, reveal that the vast majority of students feel very strongly or strongly that they have attained the competencies of the core curriculum, with as many as 90% of respondents indicating confidence [21] [22]. Aside from the large one-year drop in student perception related to communications proficiency (88% to 47%), the reason for which we are unable to explain since no dramatic changes were made during the time frame, other percentages remain at similar levels. The Natural Sciences areas showed the most noticeable increases, going up 4 to 11 percentage points on each area assessed. The 2004 and 2005 ratings for the mathematics component were taken as a positive comment on the mathematics core in particular: the 2000 CIRP survey indicated that only 30.8% of first-time full-time freshmen would rate themselves as above average in mathematical ability at PVAMU compared with the average person of his/her age. The same group at comparable 4-year universities, however, would rank themselves slightly higher at 32.7% [23]. Although these are relatively close, what is noticeable from the PVAMU freshman responses, is that aside from their self rating for artistic ability, mathematical ability is by far the lowest of the 20 abilities listed, some going as high as 74% (self confidence). Gains appear to have been made in the mathematics component area of the core over the previous five-year period, as reflected by the Core Proficiency Survey.

Following the 2004 and 2005 assessments and as a way to address their results, units across campus were asked to explain how the courses approved as part of the 42 semester credit core curriculum helped students meet core competencies. Samples from English [24], Mathematics [25], Political Science and History [26], Music [27], Biology [28], and Speech [29], illustrate the responses from units. These matrices helped units address the core competencies more fully and to make any changes needed to better address these. For example, in political science and history, new customized textbooks were created to emphasize the role of minorities in American government and history to better capture students' interest. Several departments looked into supplemental online programs and resources, such as MathZone from McGraw-Hill for algebra and MyCompLab from Pearson Longman for English classes. Following this alignment in 2006, another University-wide core curriculum alignment matrix exercise was utilized to help units better identify upper-division courses that help reinforce core competencies. These 2007 matrices reported on specific courses where core competencies were being reinforced. Samples from English [30], Sociology [31], and Communications [32] reveal ways in which courses were identified.

Even with the changes started in 2006 and 2007, 2007 MAPP scaled results in all areas of the core continued to indicate low proficiency, with critical thinking and mathematics having scores at 105.38 and 108.98 respectively [33]. These combined results indicate that student levels in reading, writing, natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences are largely the same, ranging from 107 to 108 with a possible range of 100 to 130. However, these results have combined scores from 929 freshmen through senior students.

The one area not assessed by the MAPP or CLA is computing. Spring 2009 assessment data (85 PowerPoint and Word artifacts assessed using a rubric in three different sections of the core COMP 1003 Introduction to Computer Education class) indicate that students demonstrate use of "current techniques, skills, and tools necessary for computing practice" at the average to above average level (2.64/4.0) [34]. Reinforcement of the computing skills learned in this freshmen level course takes place at the upper division; indeed, FSSE data from 2006 indicates that computer skills are further reinforced after students take the core course in this area: 70% of upper division faculty reported that they structured their course very much or quite a bit so that students learn and develop in using computing and information technology [35]. By their senior year, 68% of students would say that they had used an electronic medium to discuss or complete an assignment very often / often [36], while 85% would report that their college experience contributed to their knowledge, skill, and personal development in using computing and information technology either very much / quite a bit [35].

"True Core" Competencies Assessment
The three areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, along with the critical thinking skills fostered in them, constitute what the University refers to as the "True Core," since these support all areas of core curriculum. Given our student population and mission, the University has significant challenges to overcome, but it embraces these challenges as noted. The University has always taken seriously the defining characteristics of basic intellectual competencies in the core curriculum given by the state. Specifically, the THECB explained in 1999 that a series of "basic intellectual competencies – reading, writing, speaking, listening, critical thinking, and computer literacy – are essential to the learning process in any discipline" [37]. Starting in 2006 and 2007 following its core alignment exercise, the University shifted outcomes assessment from all component areas such as humanities and fine arts, natural sciences, and social and behavioral sciences, largely to the "True Core": reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematics. Prairie View has assessed the extent to which students achieve the competencies of the "True Core" through the MAPP in 2006 and 2007, the CLA in 2008, and the Core Curriculum Council-designed General Education Synthesis Assignment in 2009. The University has also used NSSE data from 2001 to the present to inform the results of these assessments.

As "True Core" areas remained a concern, Dr. Paul Biney from the College of Engineering helped create a summary of the University's MAPP data on reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematics [38]. Combining data from the 2006 and 2007 MAPP results and comparing data from national MAPP results from previous and current years, the University noticed longitudinal improvement; for example, proficiency in writing level 3 skills went from 5% for freshmen to 38% for seniors, compared to 26% of freshmen and 41% of seniors for national results. Level 1 proficient and marginally proficient math skills went from 38% for freshmen to 63% for seniors, compared to 77% to 84% nationally. 55% of seniors were proficient or marginally proficient in reading competency, while critical thinking went from 0% to 29% by senior year. Clearly gains were made, but only marginally, and the 2008-2009 CLA results confirmed those of the MAPP for the "True Core" [39]. Although adjusted scores for entering academic ability are higher for seniors at 53%, the unadjusted senior score for the performance task, analytic writing task, ability to make an argument, and critique and argument, indicated that Prairie View seniors performed higher than only 14 percent of comparison institutions. Clearly there was a valued added component.

Work was needed to identify the causes of low performance and to begin to develop a plan for strengthening areas of the "True Core" and thus to strengthen competency achievement in all core areas. In 2009, the Core Curriculum Council was appointed to design an instrument to help pinpoint crucial areas for strength in reading and critical thinking. After lengthy discussions about the core [40], the Council designed an assessment instrument [41] with instructions [42] and rubric [43] to assess senior students in two computer-selected senior level courses in each of the eight colleges and schools of the university. Senior papers were numbered in random order and every other one taken for assessment. Only graduating seniors were assessed. Results of the 56 essays assessed by two reviewers per essay indicated that students were able to communicate a purpose for writing (thesis: 2.74/4.0) but that the critical thinking related to distinguishing claims (2.09/4.0) was particularly low in the low proficiency category. Basic sentence structure and mechanics ranked slightly higher on the scale: sentences (2.54/4.0) and mechanics (2.60/4.0) [44]. The results were consistent with the CLA and MAPP results, and recommendations were made in July of 2009 [45].

When students are asked their opinions of their competency levels, gains are seen between initial enrollment and graduation. NSSE data from 2005 [46] and 2008 [47] reflect the value added nature of the core at Prairie View given its student population. The 2008 results in particular indicate that while 64% of freshmen felt that their college experiences contributed to their knowledge and skills in writing clearly and effectively either very much or quite a bit, seniors reported a higher 85%. Regarding thinking critically and analytically, 27% of freshmen indicated very much versus 56% of seniors. Regarding their use of computing and information technology, 28% of freshmen felt their college experience helped very much, while 56% of seniors reported very much.

These higher trends for seniors are the same in all areas of the core assessed, and FSSE data from 2007 help indicate reasons behind these student perceptions. Notably, 97% of the lower division teaching faculty indicated that they structured their courses quite a bit / very much so that students learn and develop thinking critically and analytically. 75% of the lower division teaching faculty reported structuring their classes very much / quite a bit so that students learn to write clearly and effectively [48]. While gains are being made, more improvement is desired. The Quality Enhancement Plan discussed in Core Requirement 2.12 will help in this regard. Currently designed to enhance the reading skills of our students, the QEP should help us address all areas of the core curriculum.

Major Outcome Expectation
Prairie View A&M University seeks to graduate students who are prepared for the demands of the global marketplace and further education, both of which require solid foundations in the "True Core." The university-designed Academic Program Experience Survey, given since 1999, indicates that in spring of 2008, students favorably rated their experiences at the University (N=307). On a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), students agreed, for example, with the following statements: The program in my major met my expectation (4.12); I am as well-prepared in my major as graduates from any other public college the size of PVAMU (4.14); My degree has prepared me to enter jobs in my field (4.11); and With my degree I am prepared to pursue an advanced degree (4.23) [49].

Student achievement, given the University's mission of "preparing undergraduates in a range of careers including but not limited to engineering, computer science, natural sciences, architecture, business, technology, criminal justice, the humanities, education, agricultural sciences, nursing, mathematics, and the social sciences," is one of the most important methods of discerning outcomes attainment as well [2]. To assess success in this area, Prairie View A&M University tracks job placement and graduate school enrollment rates; in theory, students who are not competent in reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking will have less success in finding employment and being accepted into graduate school. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, between 2005 and 2007, just over 80% of baccalaureate graduates who have stayed in Texas have been employed, in graduate school, or both [50] [51]. These figures do not account for the number of students who pursue employment or advanced degrees in other locations, but indicate strong placement and achievement. These placement data suggest that test scores may not adequately reflect the skill sets that students acquire at Prairie View A&M University.

Supporting Documentation and Links


Comprehensive Standards 3.5.1

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