Book By: Ratcliff, James L., Johnson, D. Kent, and Gaff, Jerry G. eds.
Review By: Paul G. Kreuzer
Assistant Dean
Lehman College


It is a paradox that general education reform has been a priority for the last decade when college curriculum changes happen at a snail’s pace. This collection of essays from the New Directions in Higher Education series provides a comprehensive overview of curricular innovations that have developed over the past decade, the reasons for these changes, strategies for achieving change, critical failures in our attempts, and suggestions for future direction. 

In this short book, the editors provide essays offering an historical perspective for case studies from different kinds of institutions, a discussion of curricular coherence as the most important and most elusive objective in reforming general education, and suggestions of methods for achieving effective reforms. The text describes a variety of general education models: core plans, distributional systems, content clusters, theme-centered, skills- or competency-centered, and interdisciplinary content-centered approaches.

This book is an excellent resource for anyone involved in designing, reforming, or assessing general education. Because the book offers both theoretical and practical perspectives, it provides useful information for a variety of audiences.  New advisors struggling to communicate the goals of general education to students will find the theoretical chapters particularly useful.  Advising administrators working to effect change will find the case studies provide both examples of general education reforms and suggestions for successful navigation through campus politics. Readers will find tips to help focus assessment of curriculum on student learning outcomes and assessment of advising on student ability to define coherence in their college course work.

Because this is a collection of essays written by different authors, the readability varies dramatically from chapter to chapter.  Some sections were unnecessarily dense, and judicious editing for clarity would have been welcome.  At times it was a struggle to decipher ideas that could have been communicated in a simple, straightforward manner.  Although the information is useful, it did not have to be opaque.  Taken as a whole, however, the text offers a cogent overview of the current state of general education.

It is easy for advisors to become trapped in the minutiae of curricula at their own institutions and lose sight of their unique position in understanding the entirety of students’ educational experiences.  As the primary communicators of general education goals to students, academic advisors, whether full-time professionals or faculty, need to consider the issues raised in this text.  Because advisors listen actively to student academic concerns and provide comprehensive educational guidance, our perspective is unique, Advisors, therefore, must play an increasingly important role in the development of coherent and effective curricula and assessment protocols. This volume provides a solid framework for advisors in this role.


Changing General Education Curriculum: New Directions for Higher Education, No 125. (March 2004). Book by Ratcliff, James L., Johnson, D. Kent, and Gaff, Jerry G. eds. Review by Paul G. Kreuzer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 136 pp. $29.00. ISBN: 0-7879-7407-2.

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