Monday 6 November

Measuring curricular breadth in institutional context

Among the characteristics of a liberal arts education, curricular breadth stands out as being among the most often-cited and frequently prescribed components, while simultaneously being among the least well-researched aspects of student learning. Breadth is articulated as meeting general education and distribution requirements at the institutional level, with graduation serving as a marker that sufficient breadth has been achieved. How breadth is empirically realized by students operating within their academic programs is an open question given that common measures of curricular breadth do not exist. In this project, we measure undergraduate curricular breadth based on the body of coursework undertaken by students using individual-level transcript data. The breadth metrics we calculate will be of interest to researchers interested in probing the association between the “dosage” of breadth in the curriculum and variation in educational and life outcomes. We also offer thoughts about the utility of such measures and whether it is really possible for a concept as complex and amorphous as curricular breadth to be measured using indices that are, by their nature, reductive.