Gen Ed on My Mind

AGLS will invite a series of association officers, members and guests to write short essays on current general education issues and matters of the day. Our aim is to have a new essay every 6 weeks. Past essays will be archived online for a year, then in association offices. Have something on your mind? Contact us at to find out how to share your ponderings.

Creating a State GEM - Revisited

Joyce Lucke - Monday, May 04, 2015

Creating a State GEM – Revisited

Vicki Stieha, Ph.D. Director, Foundational Studies Program and Asst. Professor Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies.  Boise State University.

Last year at the AGLS Conference in Atlanta, a team of presenters from five Idaho public colleges and universities shared our statewide plan for general education which provides consistency across institutions while allowing institutional variety.  We call our program the Idaho General Education Matriculation (or GEM) Plan

The move to create commonality in the general education core for our institutions came from the faculty and leadership of our institutions.  In 2011 it was clear that the time had come to update our statewide general education and transfer policy to be more consistent with national models and with the changes happening at Boise State University and the University of Idaho.  As our 2014 presentation  explains, our statewide general education leadership collaboratively designed a framework that would provide common elements (Ways of Knowing in Mathematics, Social & Behavioral Science, Arts & Humanities, and Science; and Integrative Skills in Written and Oral Communication).  In addition we wanted to provide the freedom for each institution to emphasize courses and experiences that were aligned to its own mission and values.  These “Institution Specific” credits were left up to each campus with the guidance that they should reflect “high impact practices” (AAC&U, 2013).  The Ways of Knowing and Integrative Skills areas were modeled on the AAC&U LEAP Framework. 

Since our presentation in September 2014, we have continued to revise our GEM policy and each campus has now submitted the courses that we offer in each category to a statewide portal which will be publicly available later this year. The review and submission process required the faculty on each campus to create, revise, or review their general education courses – we called that process “GEM Stamping.” In some cases the faculty deliberations raised contentious issues that had to be reconciled by our statewide general education council (e.g. what if a course is general education on one campus, but not on another? What if a course on one campus is offered at a higher level on another – are they equivalent?).  When needed, we gather the disciplinary faculty representatives in one location or via teleconference to help solve stalemates so that we can move forward. 

Although not perfect (is it even possible to have a perfect statewide plan?) we have a plan and associated courses which recognizes that students can and will “swirl” (Albertine, 2011) between and among our campuses.  Students’ work in any campus’ Ways of Knowing or Integrative Skills GEM stamped course will transfer to satisfy general education credit requirements when they transfer from one public state institution to another.  While requirements for completion of a major remain the domain of departmental faculty on each campus, the step we have taken provides an outcomes-based system to accept credit where previously the course number, name, or description was the determiner between earning credit in general education or elective credit. 

Our work on the GEM plan continues with our first Annual Gen Ed Disciplines meeting in December 2015 to continue building connection and coherence into our statewide general education courses.  Our next step…statewide agreement on a learning outcome assessment plan. 

One enduring lesson learned from the several years we have spent getting to this point is that we must continue to attend to general education, asking questions and creating paths through our degrees if we are to meet our Complete College goals for Idaho higher education.  We believe the policy, the practices, and the structure that we have created in our GEM plan provides the mechanisms we need to do just that.  

If you are interested in knowing more about the Idaho GEM Plan or our process, please contact Vicki Stieha (
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