Standard 2.C - Undergraduate Program
MSU Billings (MSU Billings) has worked diligently over the past several years to increase coherence and accessibility within and among the various programs and majors, efforts including the shift from General Education to Academic Foundations, requirement of an Information Literacy course fundamental to communication in the 21st century and the transfer of secondary education teaching majors from the College of Education to the College of Arts and Sciences to emphasize content. The University Honors Program has grown into a well-designed, well-executed, and popular avenue of excellence and achievement for exceptional students.
Efforts to ensure that all students at MSU Billings receive accurate and sufficient advising have grown steadily over the years, including instituting the Advising Center, advising forms available online, and requiring mandatory advising visits before course enrollment is allowed. Communication among advisors and faculty is more frequent and effective. Each college has developed effective advising methods. The progressively higher mean scores on academic advising (one of the 12 SSI student satisfaction scales) on the 2008 Noel-Levitz survey is a direct outcome of those efforts.
The undergraduate program at MSU Billings is designed with Academic Foundations, major, minor and elective components intended to cover not just the students’ chosen areas of specialization but also foundational knowledge to broaden their perspectives and produce well-informed scholars and citizens. Current and past MSU Billings General Bulletins present suggested plans of study for each major and minor offered. The Montana University System Core Curriculum (MUS Core described in the Board of Regents Policy 301.10 assures the transfer of up to 30 semester credits for those students enrolled in courses prescribed within each of six areas at a participating host institution.
A General Education Council established in December 2005 oversees the provisions of Policy 301.10, including the MUS Core. With the assistance of the Council, each campus of the Montana University System has developed a list of courses that satisfy the MUS Core. The MUS General Education Council believes that the purpose of general education, and its importance in undergraduate education, is best articulated by “The Essential Learning Outcomes” statement developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities http://www.aacu.org/leap/ vision.cfm. The Council formally adopted that statement in February 2008 as the rationale for the MUS General Education Core.
In the spring of 2007, the 59th Montana Legislature called on the Montana University System to develop simple and clear procedures and policies regarding the transfer of credits among the various units of the system. Faculty Learning Outcomes Councils drawn from specific disciplines at institutions throughout the state were established and met in spring 2008 to examine individual transferable courses and reach consensus about appropriate learning outcomes for each one.
In light of the above, MSU Billings re-examined, strengthened, and coordinated its assessment to assure the motto Access and Excellence is fulfilled for all students. Each College at MSU Billings has a mission statement included in the appropriate catalog — East Campus General Bulletin and West Campus COT Catalog. Each program addresses clearly stated student learning outcomes, as do individual course syllabi.
- 2.11 General Bulletin/COT Catalog;
- 1.2 Annual Reports
Current and past MSU Billings General Bulletins present a section on General Education/Academic Foundations (AF) Requirements that includes the rationale for the program and its components; credit, category, and course choice information; as well as writing, technology, and experiential learning requirements. The Framework for Academic Foundations Assessment and Specific Outcomes for Each Category were developed as part of the evolution of General Education to Academic Foundations. The AF Assessment Framework addresses learning outcomes for each of the five conceptual areas specifically. In addition, the Framework delineates criteria for evaluating the relevance of each course to the pertinent conceptual area.
The Academic Foundations program, previously revised in 1996, has evolved from a system of nine categories covering the basic competencies of written, oral, and math skills and fundamental areas of knowledge, including the natural and social sciences, history, cultural diversity, fine arts, and integrated humanities, to a program, which contains five major categories and nine subcategories, with a more focused selection of courses from which to choose. The revised Academic Foundations Program took effect Fall Semester, 2007, with the goals of providing students with a broad background in shared areas of knowledge and allowing meaningful outcomes assessment to be built into each course. Essential disciplines remain, while AF has reduced the number of course offerings and renamed the categories. Some courses take an interdisciplinary perspective.
The previous General Education program was revised in response to concerns expressed by several constituencies: students, faculty, administration, and accreditation bodies (including NWCCU), with the intention of making the program more meaningful, challenging, comprehensible, and assessable.
The General Education Assessment Committee solicited additional information from students and faculty through a public forum and student survey. The survey solicited perceptions of General Education outcomes, familiarity with its purpose and goals, and effectiveness of advising about the program. The results of the forum and survey influenced the development of the new program advising procedures during student-orientation sessions, Academic Advising Center interactions, and faculty advising appointments. All now emphasize the role of general education.
The General Education Assessment Committee recommended several steps to be taken to help increase general awareness of the purpose of Academic Foundations and the individual courses offered within the program. Steps included providing fact sheets for courses that not only explain the objective(s) being met but that also specify how objectives will be accomplished and encouraging faculty to provide the same kind of information in their syllabi.
The basic competency requirements in written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, critical analysis/logical thinking, and literacy in the discourse or technology appropriate to the program of study have been addressed throughout the revision process. The current Academic Foundations program requires the following:
- Six credits of writing.
- Three credits of mathematics.
- Courses in the natural and social sciences that incorporate quantitative reasoning.
- Courses that require and promote critical analysis and logical thinking.
- Three credits of information literacy in public speaking, research, or information access.
In addition, each Academic Foundations course introduces students to the discourse relevant to the course’s discipline, and relevant technology is often included.
Academic Foundations established student learning outcomes for each category, and ongoing efforts are being made to assess the success of Academic Foundations courses and syllabi in meeting the program goals. The previous General Education Assessment Committee has collected homework assignments, exams and quizzes, and syllabi since fall 2006 in order to evaluate the ongoing embedded evaluation techniques being used by instructors.
To assure that Academic Foundations courses are assessed, the Committee built the following into the program:
- A conceptual framework of measurable learning outcomes that incorporates Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking.
- A framework of competencies in three major areas (Skills Development and Application, Cultural Development and Intellectual Growth and Development), each with categories and subcategories.
- Specific measurable outcomes for each area, category and subcategory.
- Placement of specific courses into the categories and subcategories based on competencies and outcomes.
- A limited menu of courses in the program that meet the defined outcomes of each category in the program.
- Measurements of student learning outcomes, or assessments, developed by faculty with expertise in their particular disciplines.
For the past 10 years, MSU Billings has used eCollege — purveyor of the online delivery system for the University — for the eCollege Assessment System. Using eCompanion shells for each Academic Foundations course, faculty were able to link course objectives with assessments. This embedded assessment model allowed both aggregation of results across the program and disaggregation by individual student in order to determine global and individual outcome achievement. The system was implemented spring 2007 but discontinued due to vendor changes as described in Standard 2.B.1. In spring 2008, as a result of a two-year review of IT contracts in the State of Montana, the four campuses of Montana State University (MSU) collaborated to adopt a single system, Desire2Learn (D2L) Training and implementation of this new platform will begin in summer 2008. In addition, faculty and IT collaboratively designed a user-friendly interface in spring 2008 for entering Academic Foundations assessment data. Academic Foundations assessment data were entered for Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 semesters. Assessment of the new Academic Foundations program is in progress as the University gets more sophisticated in collecting data and making changes.
Throughout Academic Foundations Program development, the previous General Education Program was assessed each year through surveys of students who completed this program and had graduated. The results were used in the improvement of teaching and learning and to guide the Academic Foundations Program development. Survey results from the graduating classes of 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 are displayed below. On a scale of none, very little, some, much and very much, students were asked “how much did the general education program at MSU Billings help you in each of the following areas”. The percentages in the chart below include student responses for some, much and very much for each question.
The chart at right shows the rank of each item in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 based on the over all Mean for each question.
The assessment results presented above suggest that the previous General Education Program was effective in meeting the desired outcomes for fourteen out of fifteen areas and improvements were needed in one (Laboratory Practice). This assessment has resulted in curricular revisions and methods of delivery. The improved over all Mean for Personal Choices, Math and Logical Skills and Physical Sciences is a testimonial to the revisions made for improvement. MSU Billings strives to continuously improve the quality of its educational programs.
Therefore, building on the strengths of the previous General Education Program, the Academic Foundations Program focuses on the skills indicated as important by the previous students through content area instruction.
Implementation and embedded assessment of the Academic Foundation Program began in fall 2007 and will continue. Each faculty member who taught an Academic Foundations course was expected to enter the following information in the database:
- Expected Learning Outcomes as defined in the AF matrix.
- AF Category.
- Description of the specific Outcome measured.
- % of students that met the outcome.
- Course title, section# and Rubric.
- Outcome Measure.
- Action to be taken based on the data.
The following chart shows the percent of students meeting the overall outcome in each of the skills area. Details are contained in the Exhibit 2.37. The Academic Foundations Programs with expected learning outcomes for each course is outlined on pages 73-77 of the General Bulletin 2007/09.
Though limited, data obtained thus far indicates that the embedded assessment model is effective, and the Academic Foundations Learning Outcomes identified for each category except Humanities (no data has been entered thus far) are being met. Actions identified to help students meet the identified outcomes appear to have resulted in improvements as evidenced by the higher percentages of students in spring 2008 meeting the outcomes in English, Information Literacy, Social Sciences, Cultural Diversity and Fine Arts.
This new method of data collection is in its infancy and as it evolves will become more sophisticated. Most importantly, faculty response has been positive. Increased awareness and faculty participation will result in a more complete data set. Obtaining buy-in for an assessment of Academic Foundations where the language has shifted from,” I won’t do it,” to “how can we do it?” reflects a monumental cultural change at the University.
Academic Foundations for Certificate of Applied Science and Associate of Applied Science programs on the West Campus differ from AF requirements for Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. Applied Science certificates and degrees are more technical and prepare individuals for immediate employment, so require fewer Academic Foundations credits. While Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees can stand on their own, they can also transfer into a four-year bachelor’s degree. This transferability means that the required Academic Foundations mirror requirements on the East Campus for four-year degree programs.
MSU Billings’ articulation agreements with two-year colleges and other fouryear colleges in the region ensure comparability in general education, as does collaborative work with a Montana University System committee for oversight of system-wide general education programs.
- 2.11 General Bulletin/COT Catalog;
- 1.3 through
- 1.7 Survey,
- 2.37 Academic Foundation Assessment Results,
- 6.9 Academic Senate Committee
Each department has considered the professional development needs of students in designing its major(s) and minor(s), with emphasis on both knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the workplace or in graduate school, and with ongoing attention to what changes are needed to maintain quality programs. As applicable, programs align with state/national standards in specialty program areas (SPAs).
MSU Billings offers 28 Baccalaureate (with options in several of them) and 32 Associate degree programs in addition to the 11 certificate programs. Most programs have credits set aside for electives, offering a choice from the following:
- Courses of special relevance to the degree in question.
- Courses chosen in consultation with an advisor.
- Unrestricted electives.
- The number of credits available for electives varies by program.
Evidence: 2.11 General Bulletin/COT Catalog
The Honors Program
The MSU Billings Honors Program is a vital component of undergraduate education intended to enhance the educational experience of students with highlevel ability and strong motivation. Created in 1997, the Program makes use of special courses, seminars, and colloquia to allow small groups of students to develop close rapport with professors, experience interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning, and develop skills in a variety of academic areas and through service opportunities.
The Program was designed according to recommendations of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). The director’s 2005-2006 CQI report demonstrates attention to maintaining the quality of the courses being offered. Student learning outcomes and outcomes-based assessment center on written and project-oriented assignments rather than tests. Students are selected according to stringent criteria. Freshmen need:
- 3.5 GPA or,
- 26 or higher on the ACT or,
- Graduating in the top fifth of their class.
Transfer and currently enrolled students need:
- 3.2 college GPA.
- Recommendation from a faculty member.
Additional characteristics set the Honors Program apart. Faculty are chosen for their excellence in teaching and research. Class size is kept small, with a maximum 20:1 student-to-instructor ratio to enhance interaction opportunities between professors and students. Most of the courses count toward General Education/ Academic Foundations, so a student’s overall program credit requirements need not be increased. Students who successfully complete 21 credits of honors courses earn the University Honors Scholar designation on their transcripts. They are recognized at each College Convocation and in the Commencement program.
The Honors Program has grown considerably since its inception in 1997. The chart shows that both the number of courses offered and the number of students enrolled in those courses have increased over time, especially in the last few years.
Recent University Honors Scholars have done well after graduating. In 2005, of the four scholars who graduated, three were enrolled in Ph.D. programs. In 2006, of the three scholars who graduated, two were employed within their major field of study.
Evidence: 1.2 Honors Annual Report
Associate Degree Programs
All programs at MSU Billings that offer applied and specialized associate degrees or certificates require General Education/Academic Foundations courses in communication, computation, and human relations.
Both West and East Campuses require that students working toward AA and AS degrees complete the same Academic Foundations coursework as for a bachelor’s degree. Both Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees can transfer into four-year degree programs, hence the similarity of Academic Foundations requirements.
For its AAS degrees and certificates, the West Campus offers a list of courses satisfying the Academic Foundations requirements and requires one in each category. Courses include two in writing; COMT 130, Introduction to Public Speaking; three courses in mathematics; and COMT 109, Human Relations. Because these degrees are technical and lead to specific employment, the foundational education requirements are not as extensive as those for two-year degrees that can be transferred into a four-year plan for undergraduate study.
The MSU Billings website presents a complete list of current degrees and programs at http://www.msubillings.edu/future/Degrees/. Teaching options are associated with content majors, as are pre-professional programs. With a few exceptions (10), minors are part of majors, not free- standing. Graduate degree options are advisor-approved configurations of regularly offered graduate courses.
- 2.31 Current Degrees and Programs;
- 2.11 General Bulletin/COT Catalog
Policies for the transfer and acceptance of credit are included in the General Bulletin and online at the Admissions and Records website. The transfer policies are in compliance with Board of Regents policies and are designed to ensure that the credits accepted are comparable to courses offered at MSU Billings. Course equivalency guides from many colleges are available online, including guides for all 21 Montana colleges and universities, four North Dakota institutions, five Wyoming institutions, and institutions in five other countries. Articulation agreements are handled through equivalency guides rather than contracts.
- 2.11 General Bulletin/COT Catalog,
- 2.12 Articulation Agreements;
- 6.4 BOR Policies and Procedures Manual (§301.5) (http://mus.edu/borpol/default.asp)
Prior to the opening of the MSU Billings Advisement and Support Center in 1996, incoming students were assigned an academic advisor once they had completed the application process and before being allowed to register for classes. Each College had its own general advisor. Students with declared majors were assigned faculty advisors from the relevant department.
Initially, with the new Advisement and Support Center in place, all students were to receive advising there for their first two years, including assistance with choosing a major, developing plans of study, and having transcripts evaluated, if needed. With the completion of their General Education requirements and declaration of a major, they were transferred to a faculty advisor within the relevant department for help with planning upper-division coursework. The name of the Center was changed to Advising Center in 2003.
Currently, the MSU Billings Advising Center (http://www.msubillings.edu/ advise/) has eight advisors, two at the COT and six at the East Campus, and a fulltime director was hired in 2006. The Center continues to offer mandatory advising to all first-time freshmen and to all incoming students. Students still receive help with planning their course of study, selecting and registering for classes, securing their transcripts from other institutions for evaluation, and understanding Academic Foundations, major, and minor requirements. Advisors provide information about Academic Foundations requirements as well as worksheets for majors and minors, and those worksheets are also available online, at the Advising Center homepage (http://www.msubillings.edu/advise/). Students who have declared majors continue to be advised by faculty in their major department, with many of those faculty serving as active mentors for their majors and guiding their progress not just through their undergraduate education to graduation, but on through the career search and graduate school application processes, as well.
The interface between the Advising Center and Colleges/departments has grown, with more two-way communication between center advisors and faculty advisors. Center advisors meet with faculty either on an as-needed basis or on a regular basis through participation in College committees. Center advisors seek program information from the departments and stay abreast of curricular changes. Faculty advisors are provided with bulletins/catalogs, plan-of-study worksheets, the Advising Center student file and any other information pertinent to the advising process. A testimonial to the effectiveness of this process is the consistent improvement in the mean scores on academic advising (one of the 12 SSI student satisfaction scales) in 2008 that were significantly higher than MSU Billings’ 2006 SSI scores and the 2008 Noel-Levitz national data base.
When a student has declared a major, the advising file is forwarded to the appropriate department. Department chairs assign a faculty advisor according to several variables—major area of study, current faculty advising load, and student preference. Student advising is taken very seriously by all members of the campus community. All colleges in the University community require that their majors meet with an advisor before registration for the next semester. Faculty develop professional relationships with their advisees that are of benefit to both faculty member and advisee even after graduation. Dual advisors with College of Education are assigned to teaching majors in the College of Arts and Sciences and allied Health Professions.
The MSU Billings Advising Center offers a Graduation Guarantee for Undergraduates that specifies conditions to be met by both the student and the institution. If the student meets those conditions but the University does not, delaying graduation, then after a successful appeal to the Academic Standards and Scholastic Standing Committee, course requirements, tuition, and/or fees will be waived.
In 2006, in the interest of CQI and as a result of the student satisfaction survey, the Partners-for-Change Advising Task Force was convened to identify and discuss all advising-related issues and to improve the existing advising model in all ways necessary. Other task forces focusing on student recruitment, student retention and eLearning were also formed to examine existing practices and policies and to identify ways to improve them. One change that has resulted from these efforts is the requirement that all students receive a PIN number from an advisor before being allowed to register for classes, thus ensuring advising input and guidance.
Evidence: 2.14 Materials and forms used in the academic advisement process
Developmental (DevEd) coursework is overseen by the Academic Support
Center (ASC) (http://www.msubillings.edu/asc/), with branches on both East and West Campuses. Following National Association for Developmental Education (NADE) best practices, the University has policies in place governing procedures to be followed, including ability to benefit, permissible student load and the granting of credit. The policies cover such concerns as tracking, assessment, and retaining students in DevEd courses, including actions taken in various situations (student absences, failing, succeeding) and statistics measuring a wide variety of in- and outcomes. The ASC has also continually evaluated the cut-scores from the COMPASS test to ensure that the scores place students in the most appropriate level courses to be successful. The policies clearly state that credits earned will apply toward graduation requirements, but not toward general education, a major, or a minor.
The developmental course curriculum is reviewed annually based on course evaluations, course retention rates, post-developmental pass rates, and input from the English and mathematics departments.
A new Developmental Education policy governing delivery and administration of remedial coursework was passed by the Board of Regents in November 2007 and must be in place by 2010.
In addition, the ASC is taking its tutoring and DevEd expertise to online students. Matching a Montana University System grant with institutional funds, MSU Billings will pilot an online tutoring program for the 2008-2009 academic year. The ASC will identify between four and six high-risk courses and recruit and train tutors to provide help in an online environment. Students will receive help synchronously through web conferencing software and asynchronously through email and accessing online tutorials. Online tutoring will be available to all students. This project is ac ollaboration between the ASC staff on the East and West campus and the E-Learning Hub.
More details on the ASC are contained in standard 3B.1.
- 2.13 BOR policy regarding remedial work;
- Policy 301.18 Developmental Education
There are sufficient full-time faculty members (157) to cover the programs offered. The University has enhanced its tenure-track faculty base with lecturers, adjuncts and part-time faculty. On the East Campus, the CBA limits the ratio of lecturers to 15% of the full-time equivalent faculty.
The Academic Senate has supported several studies into the ratio of lecturers and/or part-time faculty to tenure-track faculty. With 13.5% of faculty in lecturer lines, MSU Billings falls within the 15% dictated by the East Campus CBA. Some individuals teaching part time usually come to the campus from a work setting—business, industry, education, and the medical community. Their practical experience helps to bridge the proverbial course-theory-to-working-practice gap. In addition, the University employs part-time faculty for extra sections of a course or to temporarily teach for an unfilled faculty line.
- 6.9 Academic Senate minutes (part-time faculty);
- 6.10 Advising Task Force minutes (advising)
The West Campus tracks State licensing examination pass rates and job placement rates for its pre-baccalaureate vocational programs. For example, the pass rates of Practical Nursing students on State Board examinations are available from 1993 through 2007, including the number of students taking the exam and whether the rate was below the national average. The passing rate on the 2007 NCLEX was 92%, far above the national average. In addition, 14 of the 15 students (93%) in the Radiologic Technology graduating class of May 2008, passed the ARRT certification exams and found jobs in their field/furthering education.
On the East Campus, statistics on teacher education candidates’ pass rates on the PRAXIS II and numbers of persons recommended for licensure are essential for internal continuing assessment and for external NCATE/OPI State Accreditation reviews. These indicators are pertinent to both the COE and CAS. In 2007-2008, a 94% pass rate of MSU Billings students in Praxis II was far above the NCATE required average of 80%.
Evidence: 1.2 Annual Reports