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Task Force on General Education Issues Report

by Carla B. Howery, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs

The ASA’s Task Force on Sociology and General Education has completed its work and has issued a report to assist departments as they participate in the plans and debates on general education requirements on campus. This resource provides ideas, models, and a literature review about how sociology can contribute to frequently advanced goals for general education programs.

The Task Force on Sociology and General Education was established in 2004 by the ASA Council to develop models and rationales for the various ways in which sociology courses contribute to general education requirements and liberal arts skills. The ASA Council asked the Task Force to focus on six specific content areas, including multicultural education/diversity, international/global issues, quantitative literacy, writing-intensive experiences, introductory freshman survey courses, and interdisciplinary freshman seminars.

In accepting the spirit of this charge, the Task Force centered its work on two inter-related questions. First, how might sociology courses effectively contribute to general education requirements? Second, how might sociology courses most effectively utilize general education requirements in the development of its majors? Most discussions on general education emphasize the first question, addressed in a context that often mixes intellectual commitment to social science knowledge and “turf protection” of enrollments. How general education courses taken by students who become majors late in their undergraduate career aids in their sociological education was a new emphasis that needs additional elaboration and research.

On most campuses, there is agreement that general education requirements (courses and co-curricular opportunities) help provide broad liberal arts knowledge and the skills to be a lifelong learner. The debates often rest on which disciplines or courses provide core knowledge and skills in the general education plan. The Task Force reviewed many institution’s general education goals. Further, they met with staff and members of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), a Washington, DC-based higher education association that has been a leader in liberal arts education. AACU has an annual conference on general education and a number of publications about core liberal arts/general education learning outcomes for all students.

After this review, the Task Force identified ways in which sociology contributes to students’ learning outcomes in nine fundamental areas, including quantitative literacy, knowledge of society, multiculturalism and diversity, global awareness, critical thinking, civic engagement, communication, moral reasoning, and collaborative work. The report summarizes the research literature on teaching and learning and provides a rationale for the claim about sociology’s important contributory role. For departments involved in campus conversations about general education, this information should be relevant and time-saving.

The report also addresses the issue of assessment of the same nine general education learning outcomes. Unfortunately, there is less empirical evidence about student learning and ways to enhance it. Nonetheless, linking goals and assessment is a strategy this Task Force, ASA groups working on related topics, and the AACU all endorse.

The report is the third in a set of reports developed by ASA task forces and approved by ASA Council that can guide sociology departments’ curriculum. The first report, Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major Updated (2004) provides goals for the major and recommendations for how departments can structure their curriculum. Following that report, in 2005, a task force completed Creating an Effective Assessment Plan for the Sociology Major. The report on Sociology and General Education (2007) is the final volume in this series of resources for departments. For example, when departments ask ASA’s help in identifying consultants for program reviews1, ASA will send these three volumes as background documents.

As Sociology and General Education Task Force Chair Bruce Keith notes, “That sociology can articulate demonstrably its contribution to important areas of student learning is noteworthy. But sociology can and must do more to advance student learning. As a result of our work, we now know that sociology, while acknowledging the importance of these learning outcomes through reports such as Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major, has not assessed students’ performance in these areas either systematically or comprehensively. Much work remains to be completed in the areas of curriculum development and assessment of student outcomes in ways that attend to the relationship between sociology and general education. Toward that end, we offer six recommendations, which build upon the preceding and groundbreaking efforts of earlier ASA Task Forces.”

The Task Force on Sociology and General Education made the following recommendations in its final report to Council.

Sociology departments should:

Recommendation 1: Contribute to a consensus about general educational goals, definitions, and what it is that undergraduates should learn in the general education curriculum, taking into account the institutional mission, type, size, and student characteristics.

Recommendation 2: Emphasize with examples the discipline’s important contributions to desired student learning outcomes.

Recommendation 3: Develop curricula within the department and in the general education curriculum around a set of collaboratively designed, well-articulated learning outcomes.

Recommendation 4: Ensure that the requirements of the major are mapped to general education learning outcomes and explicitly conveyed to students in order to strengthen their foundational knowledge within a study-in-depth experience.

Recommendation 5: Collect and analyze systematically assessment data and communicate these results to faculty, students, and appropriate publics to ensure that student performance is consistent with the general education learning goals.

Recommendation 6: Share accomplishments in general education with the community of sociologists, at professional meetings, on the ASA website, and in publications appearing in scholarly work on teaching and learning.

Task Force on Sociology and General Education. 2007. Sociology and General Education. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. $6 ASA members and $10 non-members. Order via

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1 The ASA offers a consultant service to departments called the Department Resources Group. Over 50 consultants from a wide range of institutions are trained to undertake program programs or lead workshops on teaching and learning. For more information, contact


Task Force Members:

Bruce Keith, United States Military Academy (Chair)
Nancy Greenwood, Indiana University, Kokomo
Gary Hampe, University of Wyoming
Harriet Hartman, Rowan University
Carla Howery, American Sociological Association
Carol Jenkins, Glendale Community College (AZ)
Gayle Kaufman, Davidson College
Peter Meiksins, Cleveland State University
Donald Reitzes, Georgia State University
Susan Ross, Lycoming College
Debra Swanson, Hope College
Deborah White, Minnesota State University