The history of cross-listing spans several decades in post-secondary institutions. Educators and curriculum practitioners have historically used cross-listing to streamline courses with multiple subject appeal to help satisfy students' course completion and degree attainment or to allow faculty in multiple disciplines to teach the same course. In this context, faculty have used cross-listing to develop shared ownership of a particular course and to optimize students’ paths to completion. Recent guidance from the California State University system for General Education Area F, Ethnic Studies has generated renewed discussion about this practice at the community colleges. As colleges discuss cross-listing, they should do so primarily with the needs of their students in mind and develop clear and consistent policies for when and how the practice can be used.
What is Cross-Listing?
Although cross-listing or cross-referencing courses has been a long-standing practice at many colleges, very little formal guidance is available to colleges, and the practice is not always well understood. Most of the guidance and discussion about this practice at the California community colleges comes from transfer partners and defines the practice as identical course outlines of record (CORs) submitted in different disciplines. For example, University of California course submission criteria require only one COR be offered “for courses that are ‘cross-listed’ or ‘cross-referenced’ (e.g., Psych. 10 is the same as Soc. 10)” and current C-ID submission requirements refer to cross-listed courses as “same-as” and state that a cross-listed COR should be reviewed only once. Local practice for how these identical CORs are generated and tracked may also depend on the capabilities of the local curriculum management or student information system. Still, the standard definition of this practice requires that the CORs for each cross-listed course be identical except for the assigned subject code—e.g., SOC 10 and PSYCH 10—and the Chancellor’s Office course control number.
Cross-listing is distinct from the articulation practice of course equivalency, which refers to different courses that meet the same requirement. For example, a college might have statistics courses in multiple subjects, such as a business or social science statistics course, with distinct and discipline-specific content, all of which are equivalent in that each course meets the same math requirement. These course outlines would be equivalent—all meeting the same C-ID descriptor for statistics—but would not be considered cross-listed because the outlines are distinct. Though all cross-listed courses are by definition equivalent, not all equivalent courses are cross-listed.
For colleges with a separate practice of discipline assignment for minimum qualifications, assigning a course to more than one discipline can eliminate the need to cross-list for reasons related to faculty assignment. A course that can be appropriately taught by more than one discipline can be assigned a single subject code on the COR and in the catalog but still include multiple teaching disciplines for the purpose of minimum qualifications. Teaching a course that is cross-listed with another discipline does not give a faculty member equivalency in the discipline for which the faculty member does not meet minimum qualifications. For example, if a Film as Literature course can be appropriately taught by faculty with qualifications in English or film studies, this possibility can be specified in the COR under a separate discipline assignment category without the need to list the course in both subject codes. If an English faculty member taught Film as Literature, that person would not be eligible to teach film studies classes that are not cross-listed with English.
Two common curriculum practices are used to link courses, but only one is cross-listing. Those two practices are as follows:
- Cross-listing: A Film as Literature course has two identical course outlines, FILM 200 and ENGL 200.
- Except for subject area and the Chancellor’s Office course control number, these CORs should be identical.
- Both outlines should include both disciplines, but an instructor only needs to meet minimum qualifications in one of the areas to teach the course. For example, teaching disciplines should be listed on both CORs as “English or film studies.”
- Students cannot take both courses for credit since the content is the same.
- Discipline Assignment: A Film as Literature course has one course outline, FILM 200, with an identified teaching discipline assignment of “film studies or English.”
- There is one course outline, FILM 200.
- This course outline includes a discipline assignment of “film studies or English,” and an instructor needs to meet minimum qualifications in one of these areas to teach the course.
Each of these techniques can meet different needs for students, and each of them may have drawbacks and complications. As with any curriculum decision, faculty should make the impact of cross-listing on students the primary consideration.
Implications for Ethnic Studies
With the recent creation of ethnic studies graduation and CSU Area F requirements, many colleges without ethnic studies departments are considering cross-listing as a solution to meeting students’ needs. Ethnic studies, as defined by Assembly Bill 1460, is an interdisciplinary field of critical race studies that focuses on four historically aggrieved racialized groups in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Latinas/os, and Asian Americans. Some courses that cover topics of race or social justice are not considered ethnic studies. While the guidance from the CSU system does allow for cross-listing, cross-listing a course should not happen without participation of faculty from all impacted disciplines. Colleges might reach out to ethnic studies faculty from other colleges or districts if none are currently employed locally to ensure a course is truly an ethnic studies course and then, of course, recommend hiring ethnic studies faculty through shared governance processes. Any pre-existing course that will be newly cross-listed with ethnic studies should be able to be taught by either the original discipline or ethnic studies faculty.
When cross-listed courses are submitted to transfer institutions such as the CSU, including for general education alignment, the reviewers are looking for both areas' requirements before they can be approved. This review is a higher standard if courses are proposed to meet more than one CSU GE requirement. This situation may impact colleges’ submissions for the new CSU Area F requirement.
Impact on Students
Cross-listing is a behind-the-scenes curricular process. Most students do not see or need to understand the process. What students do need to understand is the impact of their choice regarding the specific section for which they sign up. This choice should be made in consultation with their counselors, as it may impact graduation as well as general education and transfer requirements. This concern is particularly important for students in a multi-college district where requirements and articulation agreements may be different. As curriculum is one of the areas in which local student organizations must be consulted under Title 5 §51023.7(b), bringing students into these conversations is also important.
Impact on Data and Workflow
Cross-listing courses can complicate data tracking and analysis. This practice may significantly impact processes such as program review that would divide the student data in those courses between programs, not allowing any group to see the complete picture of the course. Additionally, cross-listing can create workflow and process issues between the college’s curriculum management system, the Chancellor’s Office Curriculum Inventory (COCI), ASSIST, and other systems such as degree audit or student information systems. For example, COCI does not have a method for submission of cross-listed courses, requiring separate course control numbers, while ASSIST requires that cross-listed courses be submitted together.
While the Chancellor’s Office might provide clearer guidance to support colleges in effectively implementing cross-listing, recommendations for local senates include the following:
- Review current processes on cross-listing.
- Review current cross-listed courses and identify any unintended consequences for students.
- Review how cross-listed courses impact student transfer.
- Weigh the benefits and costs of cross-listing and its potential impact on students, data integrity, and workflow processes.
- Consider whether other curriculum processes, such as assigning courses to disciplines, may be more appropriate than cross-listing.
Each college has local processes for cross-listing. Local academic senates should take a fresh look at their institutions’ processes and procedures on cross-listing through the lenses of equity and student success.