Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about General Education at UC Merced and the proposed new General Education Program are addressed in the sections that follow. These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) may be revised as new questions are raised during the process of reviewing the proposed General Education Program. 

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The General Education Subcommittee can be contacted at

1) What is General Education?

Typically, a General Education curriculum is intended to engage all undergraduate students at a college or university with a variety of approaches to forming and addressing questions critical to developing effective habits of lifelong learning.

The following definition of General Education is adapted from the UC Merced Catalog:

What is General Education? . . . General Education provides [undergraduate students] with the practical skills and diverse knowledge to become informed citizens . . . General Education at UC Merced helps [students] grow intellectually by:

  • Strengthening abilities in quantitative reasoning and written, oral and other communication skills;
  • Introducing and teaching ways to integrate and apply broad domains of knowledge: arts and humanities, social and cognitive sciences, natural sciences, and technologies and engineering methods; and
  • Discovering the many ways in which knowledge is created and used within and across disciplines.
2) What is the mission of General Education at UC Merced?

In June 2015, a group of UCM faculty and staff members held a retreat focused on developing a mission for a General Education program at UC Merced and program learning outcomes aligned with that mission. A draft statement was circulated broadly for review by faculty and staff in AY 2015-2016, resulting in the following mission for General Education at UC Merced:

UC Merced’s General Education program engages students with the values, practices, and contributions of a research university to provide a framework for integrative learning in the context of the culturally and economically diverse Central Valley. In tandem with the major and the co-curriculum, General Education supports student development of the Hallmarks of the Baccalaureate Degree at UC Merced. It nurtures the spirit of inquiry, building students’ knowledge of various fields, cultures, and perspectives. General Education fosters collaboration, communication, and ethical action. It empowers students to share their learning and skills to address the local and global challenges of an interconnected, changing world.

3) Why does UC Merced need a new General Education Program?

Since UC Merced opened, General Education – other than CORE 1 and Writing 10 – has been located in the schools. Therefore, what constitutes General Education at UCM differs significantly based on a student’s major, as well as the school in which that major is located. The result is that we have not had shared expectations for our students with regard to General Education, nor have our students had a common and coherent General Education experience. The external team that participated in the program review of General Education at UCM in Spring 2015 noted, “the current General Education requirements, including School requirements, are insufficient, lack coherence, and are simply not serving the students or campus well. Tinkering with the current requirements will not fix the problem. A thorough reconsideration is needed, of both content and delivery.”

General Education also was one focus of an Interim Report provided by UC Merced to its regional accreditor, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), in 2014. At the time of initial accreditation in 2011, the WASC review noted the need for a more coherent General Education program to promote student learning, as well as for a plan to develop and assess learning outcomes for General Education. The Interim Report pointed to the revitalization of the General Education Subcommittee of Undergraduate Council and program review of General Education as means to create a foundation for a new and clearly assessable General Education Program for UC Merced students.

4) How will the new General Education Program be more effective than its predecessor?

Until now, UC Merced has had General Education courses, not a General Education Program. The goal of the new Program is to have clearly articulated learning outcomes that can be used to evaluate courses that are submitted to fulfill General Education requirements, and to assess its success. The new General Education Program ensures that all students are introduced to the major approaches to knowledge; are familiar with a language other than English (including computer languages); and are exposed to modes of analysis and subjects of broad significance for their lives as global citizens.

Research on undergraduate student academic success and on effective General Education curricula points to the importance of a coherent General Education program for creating a foundation for the intellectual knowledge and skills for lifelong learning and for coursework in the major. Shared expectations and experiences for General Education also support students as they change majors and schools; differing General Education requirements can have a negative impact on students’ timely progress to complete degrees.

5) What is the relationship between the proposed General Education Program and external accreditation expectations?

A coherent assessable General Education Program is an expectation of UC Merced’s regional accreditor, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

6) How does the proposed General Education Program compare to existing General Education Programs at similar schools?

The General Education Subcommittee reviewed a number of models of General Education Programs, including at other UC campuses; all the elements of our proposal are used in various ways at most other research universities.

7) How does the proposed General Education Program provide a shared experience across schools?

All students, regardless of major, will complete the same range of courses, to ensure that they have been exposed to the ideas, concepts, and modes of analysis that the faculty have deemed important.

8) What are the Program Learning Outcomes of General Education at UC Merced?

Until now, courses that “counted” as General Education courses were evaluated according to the Eight Guiding Principles of General Education, developed before the campus opened. The Eight Guiding Principles will be replaced by the General Education Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which were developed at a June 2015 retreat of faculty and staff members and which were approved by Undergraduate Council in Spring 2016. The PLOs for General Education at UCM can be found at the following hyperlink: Mission and Program Learning Outcomes

9) What is the relationship between the new General Education Program and the Eight Guiding Principles of General Education?

There is none. The Program Learning Outcomes of General Education, which were developed and vetted by UC Merced faculty and staff members, will take the place of the Guiding Principles.

10) What is the relationship between the new General Education Program and the Hallmarks of a UC Merced Baccalaureate Degree?

The General Education Program Learning Outcomes were developed from the Hallmarks of a UC Merced Baccalaureate Degree (please see hyperlink: Hallmarks 11-16-16.) The curriculum was designed to address the Program Learning Outcomes.

11) How was the draft General Education curriculum developed and by whom?

The draft curriculum was developed over two years, primarily by the General Education Subcommittee (GESC) but in consultation with a large number of faculty and staff members. In June 2014, the first General Education retreat was held; the results of that retreat led to the development of the “Hallmarks of the Baccalaureate Degree at UC Merced”. That document was circulated and reviewed by the Senate in the Spring of 2015. During AY 2015-16, the GESC worked from the “Hallmarks” to define Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for General Education, which also were reviewed by faculty and staff members. From those PLOs, the GESC developed a curriculum that would ensure that the learning outcomes were addressed.

12) What resources were consulted during the process of developing the outcomes?

One key resource was the result of the General Education Program review, including the General Education self-study and the recommendations of the external review team. For example, the final resolution of the Program Review determined the characteristics of the curriculum. In addition, the General Education Subcommittee reviewed many other General Education programs, and paid attention to research on curricular and pedagogical practices that support undergraduate academic success, especially for first generation, low income students.

13) How, when, and by whom will the new General Education Program be approved?

After an initial consultation with the faculty, staff and students regarding the draft proposal, the General Education Subcommittee (GESC) will make revisions, and then the Program will be reviewed by the Academic Senate and the Provost/EVC. This process will take place from November 2016 through March 2017. The GESC’s goal is final approval by April 2017. The new General Education curriculum will be implemented for students entering the university in Fall 2018.

14) How will the effectiveness of the new General Education Program be assessed?

The General Education Subcommittee will regularly evaluate the General Education Program as a whole, as well as each element, for evidence of success in achieving the Program Learning Outcomes. The Program and Program elements will be strengthened, improved, or enhanced based on the results of ongoing evaluation and assessment.

15) How will the new General Education Program and curriculum be sustained, given the need to create and maintain additional courses?

As much as possible, the new General Education Program and curriculum rely on either existing courses or courses that can count towards the major, so that “teaching GE” and “teaching our courses” are not at odds. In addition, the Provost has made a commitment to fund General Education.

16) What administrative structure will be in place to ensure that students in different Spark Seminars and Crossroads courses will have a similar experience in relation to the learning outcomes?

The General Education Subcommittee will be responsible for approving courses for each of these categories and for assessing them. There will be audits of selected syllabi on an annual basis to ensure that courses which are designated as meeting particular General Education requirements actually do what they said they would.

17) Going forward, what will be the process of amending or revising the General Education Program and the General Education curriculum?

The General Education Subcommittee will recommend changes to Undergraduate Council, the Committee on Academic Planning and Resource Allocations, and the Divisional Council.

18) Who is responsible for administration of the new General Education Program?

The Office of Undergraduate Education will provide administrative support, and the General Education Subcommittee will provide faculty oversight.

19) How are rubrics being developed for measuring General Education learning outcomes?

Rubrics for assessment will be developed by the General Education Subcommittee. General Education VALUE rubrics in use at many colleges and universities have been developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the General Education Subcommittee will consult and, perhaps, adapt those rubrics for use at UC Merced.  A link to the AACU VALUE Rubric Development Project can be found here:

20) How will artifacts of student learning be collected?

The General Education Subcommittee will use the e-portfolio in CatCourses so that students can archive sample assignments from all courses they take to fulfill General Education requirements. Assignments that are exemplary in relation to General Education Program Learning Outcomes will be identified by the instructor.

21) Who is responsible for assessing whether and how these outcomes have been achieved?

There will be an FAO for the GE program, as there is for all academic programs at UC Merced.

22) What does the draft curriculum for the new General Education Program include and why?

The curriculum includes five main elements: (1) freshman “Spark” seminar; (2) junior year interdisciplinary “Crossroads” seminar; (3) courses that address scientific, social scientific, and arts/humanities approaches to knowledge; (4) a range of curricular and co-curricular experiences that we want our students to have; and (5) a culminating experience. The biggest innovations are the Spark seminars and Crossroads courses; these are shared to the extent that all undergraduates will take them, and they will have shared characteristics.

23) What is a Spark Seminar?

The Spark Seminars are freshman seminars on topics of interest to the faculty members who teach them. The Seminars will be shaped by faculty disciplinary expertise and are intended to provide an engaging introduction to intellectual life at a research university. Foci will include building skills in multiple modes of communication, identifying campus resources for student success, and engaging in a research project. The Spark Seminars were designed consistent with research about high-impact educational practices, which demonstrates that small academically rigorous classes grounded in faculty interests can play a critical role in the success of students in the first semester of college. This is particularly true for low-income and first-generation students.

24) How does this format guarantee an interdisciplinary approach within each Spark Seminar?

The Spark Seminar is topical, and therefore not explicitly interdisciplinary, though we expect multiple perspectives to be brought to bear on the subject. The goal of the Spark Seminar is to spark curiosity and to help students think of themselves as part of a research university.

25) How is writing integrated into Spark Seminars?

Spark seminars are not writing courses. However, students will be expected to demonstrate some level of proficiency with two different types of communication, which could be written, visual, or spoken. The focus will be on writing as communication rather than writing as process.

26) How will spaces in Spark Seminars be distributed to students?

The General Education Subcommittee will work with the Registrar to develop a system of allocating seats in seminars that provides all students access to desired courses.

27) What if more students are interested in a Spark Seminar than there are seats?

By having a wide range of topics, we expect that students will find many different Spark Seminars interesting. More important, the approach to learning is more significant than topical coverage. Some Spark Seminars may be based on courses that are taught at a different level elsewhere in the curriculum.

28) What sources are available to assist with writing as integrated in Spark Seminars?

The General Education Subcommittee will work with the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning (CETL) to develop resources for faculty who are teaching Spark Seminars.

29) What is a Crossroads course?

A Crossroads course is a team taught upper division course that takes the perspectives of two disciplines on an issue or problem. These will be fairly large courses (c. 120 students) cross-listed in relevant programs. The goal of the course is to illuminate not just multiple perspectives on subjects, but also the ways different disciplines ask questions about similar material. These courses will have course numbers from the relevant programs, and they may contribute to major elective requirements.

30) What might be some examples of potential Crossroads courses?

Crossroads courses will be developed by the faculty based on their interests, but the following are possible areas.

Ecology and Economics of Resource Management

Philosophy, Politics and Economics

Historical and literary approaches to understanding race

History and Literature of the 1960s.

Water from the perspectives of environmental engineering and earth systems science

Sustainable farming from the perspectives of history and earth systems science

Music and Mathematics

Computer Science and Visual Art

Politics and Science Policy

Biomedicine and Ethics

31) Why are Crossroads courses and culminating experiences that are offered in the disciplines/majors included within the proposed General Education curriculum?

A clear recommendation arising from the review of General Education was that UC Merced should have a General Education Program that extends over four years of a student’s experience. In this way, General Education would be integrated into all aspects of a student’s academic career at UC Merced, not a group of separate courses to be “gotten through” or “gotten done” before getting on to coursework in the major. In addition, the new General Education Program and curriculum were designed to ensure that all students meet the expectations of the Hallmarks of the Baccalaureate degree, something that requires thinking about General Education as an essential element throughout the college career.

The General Education Subcommittee also was aware of the need for students to make timely progress to completion of degrees. By embedding General Education requirements in major courses, the General Education Subcommittee sought to ensure that the General Education Program did not impede progress to the degree.

32) In what sense is the Crossroads course a common experience, and how does it lead to “more focused study in the major?”

Crossroads courses have a shared focus on the different ways disciplines approach the same subject. They are particularly related to the faculty’s belief that it is important for students to understand disciplinary assumptions and epistemologies. This is exemplified in Hallmark 1 g, wherein students are asked to “Describe the origins of knowledge, informed by cultural and disciplinary epistemological and ontological assumptions.”

33) What would model syllabi for Spark Seminars and Crossroads courses look like?

A template for the Spark Seminar and Spark model syllabi are posted in Spark Seminar Template & Syllabi. We do not have a template for the Crossroads course, but some sample syllabi for courses that have already been taught at UC Merced and which fit the Crossroad model may be forthcoming.

34) Will every Spark Seminar and Crossroads course be unique?

Yes, though some may be offered on a regular basis.

35) Do we have the resources for the Practical and Applied Knowledge components of the General Education curriculum given the shortage of lab space?

This component of the curriculum was designed so that this requirement can be met by studio art experiences and practicum/practical experiences, as well as labs.

36) What role do co-curricular experiences play in the new General Education Program?

Several requirements can be met by co-curricular experiences, including Intellectual Experiences (e.g., Practical and Applied Knowledge; Leadership, Community, and Engaging the World; Global Awareness). Co-curricular experiences that might meet some of these requirements include undergraduate research, community-engaged research, leadership, internships, community service, study abroad, UCDC, and UC in Sacramento.

37) Might the Leadership, Community, and Engaging the World requirements put stress on local resources?

There are multiple ways to meet the Leadership, Community, and Engaging the World requirement, such as study abroad or at UCDC or UC Sacramento. It can also be met by leadership in campus organizations, community service, community engaged research, undergraduate research, or internships. The leadership, service and internship experiences will be reviewed to assure the quality of the student’s engagement and to require student reflection. When possible, students will enroll in credit-bearing units.

38) In what ways can the Language requirement be met?

The language requirement can be met both by courses in foreign languages and by those in computer programming languages. Students can test out of the requirement, or they can take relevant courses.

39) What is the purpose of the "Experiences and Activities" component of the plan?

"Experiences and Activities" designate a broad range of ways to expose students to analytical approaches, subjects, and experiences. Students will collect badges based on taking courses or undertaking activities that address these goals. Students may meet some of these with courses in their major.

40) Is it possible to satisfy all the requirements in a timely fashion while completing requirements for a major?

Yes, the General Education Subcommittee has designed the curriculum so that it is possible. Examples of sample student schedules can be found at the following hyperlink: Sample Course Sequencing in Proposed GE Program.

41) How will the distribution of faculty for Spark Seminars be achieved?

This will be achieved by the allocation of resources by the Provost and by the General Education Subcommittee working in collaboration with the Deans.

42) May Spark Seminars be taken concurrently with either WRI 01 or WRI 10?

Yes. Approximately ⅔ of our students take WRI 01, and all take WRI 10. By taking the Spark Seminar at the same time, student learning is reinforced in both courses. More importantly, the Seminar’s focus on communication means that students will have an additional purpose to the writing they are doing in the writing course. Since students will be taking two courses that emphasize communication at once, there will be greater continuity in their first year courses.