The Course Outline of Record: A Curriculum Reference Guide Revisited

Curriculum Committee

The course outline of record (COR) is central to the curricular processes in the California community colleges.  The COR has evolved considerably from its origins as a list of topics covered in a course. Today, the course outline of record is a document with defined legal standing that plays a critical role in the curriculum of the California community colleges. The course outline has both internal and external influences that impact all aspects of its content, from outcomes to teaching methodology, which, by extension, impact program development and program evaluation.

Requirements and standards for the course outline of record appear in Title 5 Regulations (see Appendix 2), in the Chancellor’s Office Program and Course Approval Handbook (PCAH), and in the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) accreditation standards. System-wide intersegmental general education agreements with the California State University and the University of California (CSU-GE Breadth and IGETC[1] respectively) may also place requirements upon the course outline, such as requiring specific content or requisites or currency of learning materials to satisfy articulation agreements.

Since the COR is also used as the basis for articulation agreements, colleges pay great attention to providing a document with which to determine how a student’s community college courses will be counted upon transfer to four-year baccalaureate granting institutions. Course outlines of record are also used in the process of identifying courses that meet the requirements of the Course Identification Numbering System, or C-ID. Additionally, course outlines are regularly reviewed as part of a college’s program review process, which is of central importance to accrediting agencies as well as to local planning and resource purposes. For colleges to maintain their delegated authority to review and approve new and revised courses, they must certify that their local approval standards meet the comprehensive guidelines produced by the Chancellor’s Office. The quality described in a COR is evidence of meeting these guidelines.

The COR plays a particularly important role in the California community colleges because it clearly lays out the expected content and objectives for a course for use by any faculty member who teaches the course. Course outlines provide a type of quality control, since community college courses are commonly taught by several, and sometimes dozens of, full- and part-time faculty members. In order to ensure that core components are covered in all sections of a course, the integrity of the instruction relies on the COR to specify those elements that will be covered by all faculty members who teach the course.

One of the most significant aspects of a COR is the inclusion of student learning outcomes (SLOs).  SLOs can be a driver of many, if not all, elements of a course outline of record. The current commission that accredits nearly all of California’s two year colleges mandates that institutions maintain “officially approved and current course outlines of record that include student learning outcomes” (ACCJC Standard IIA3). Colleges have developed multiple interpretations regarding the appropriate physical location of outcomes on a course outline of record, and some institutions have opted to include student learning outcomes on an addendum to a COR, while others place the SLOs on the COR next to objectives. Colleges are encouraged to work with their accrediting body to ensure appropriate compliance. A finer distinction between student learning outcomes and course objectives is provided in other sections of this paper.

While state and local standards for a COR have been updated many times and are subject to ongoing revision, numerous resolutions have directed the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) to provide guidance in the development of course outlines. This update to the original paper The Course Outline of Record:  A Curriculum Reference Guide (2008), requested by resolution 9.06 S14, is part of the effort to provide that guidance so that faculty might have direction and reasonable assurance that the internal and external course outline of record requirements for the college are met. This updated paper has incorporated the relevant portions of the original document as well as several Academic Senate papers, including Stylistic Considerations in Writing Course Outlines of Record (1998), Good Practices for Course Approvals (1998), Noncredit Challenges and Opportunities (2009), and the SLO Terminology Glossary (2009).

The ASCCC also recommends that this paper be used in the context of other documents, including ASCCC papers on The Curriculum Committee: Role, Structure, Duties, and Standards of Good Practice (1996) and Ensuring Effective Curriculum Approval Processes: A Guide for Local Senates (2016).  In addition, the current edition of the Chancellor’s Office Program and Course Approval Handbook (2016), along with ancillaries to that document, will be relevant for portions of the paper. Finally, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s Accreditation Standards (2014) should be examined in the context of standards relevant to teaching and learning at the course, program, and institutional level.  The purpose of these documents is to support the development of a course outline of record in light of the role of local curriculum committees and governing boards in developing and approving curriculum and the role of the Chancellor’s Office in approving certificates and programs to ensure compliance.

While this paper offers a model for the course outline of record, it is not intended to force standardization of curriculum.  Instead, the paper should serve as a guide to assist faculty in presenting their courses in a format that will accurately reflect the quality of instruction being provided. While the course outline of record is a blueprint of what instructional elements must be included, teaching should always be a dynamic and adaptive process, constantly adjusting to accommodate the ever-changing, diverse learning needs of students in the California community colleges. The model presented is intended to clearly demonstrate that the course will stand up to the rigor established by Education Code and Title 5 Regulations, transfer institutions, accrediting bodies, and other external entities.

[1] Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum