Frequently Asked Questions

1) What are competencies?

2) What is competency framing language?

3) Why is Syracuse University introducing shared competencies?

4) Are the shared competencies related to the proposed first year experience changes?

5) Do students have to master all of the competencies to graduate?

6) Why don’t the competencies differ by major?

7) What if a student’s major does not include courses pertaining to one or more of the competencies?

8) Will students be responsible for taking classes in the six competency areas?

9) Will students and advisers be able to see which courses help develop the individual competencies?

10) In what ways will shared competencies affect current students?

11) How will shared competencies affect faculty?

12) How and when will competency development be assessed in my academic program?

13) Who is working on the shared competencies initiative?

14) How can I get involved with the shared competencies initiative?

15) Are other Universities using a shared competencies approach for undergraduate education?

16) What is the history of the shared competencies initiative at Syracuse University?

17) Can I get more detail on the development of the shared competencies?

1) What are competencies?

Competencies are institutional, integrative general learning outcomes (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) common to all undergraduates that support, reinforce, or complement program-specific outcomes.

2) What is competency framing language?

Competency framing language is text that communicates the content of that competency to educators and learners. It is not a definition. Rather it offers a range of knowledge, skills, and attributes that each competency entails.

3) Why is Syracuse University introducing shared competencies?

Syracuse University is implementing shared competencies for two main reasons:

  1. To ensure consistency in student learning experiences across Syracuse University’s eleven Schools and Colleges that award undergraduate degrees, and to provide a framework for assessing and improving student learning outcomes.
  2. To fulfill the commitment to the shared competencies model in the Academic Strategic Plan. The University’s 2017-2018 institutional self-study, the basis for Middle States re-accreditation of Syracuse University in 2018, re-affirmed this strategic choice.

4) Are the shared competencies related to the proposed first year experience changes?

The shared competencies are a separate endeavor from the shared reading and changes being proposed for the first year experience. However, we anticipate that the revised first year experience will greatly enhance student development of three of the competencies: Ethics, Integrity, and Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion; Civic and Global Responsibility; and Communication Skills.

5) Do students have to master all of the competencies to graduate?

The competencies are not a graduation requirement. They are a means for faculty and students to think about undergraduate education. Faculty and staff will assess student competency development using examples of student work. The purpose of the assessment is to enhance the strength of our programs, not to evaluate individual students.

6) Why don’t the competencies differ by major?

Syracuse University wants all of its undergraduate students to develop the six competencies upon graduation, to ensure preparation for a global, changing world and career and personal success.

7) What if a student’s major does not include courses pertaining to one or more of the competencies?

At present, almost all programs at the University have learning outcomes that align with the six shared competencies, through required courses within the major or outside the major. For those programs that do not align fully with the competencies or where assessment of student outcomes indicates a problem in competency development, faculty in charge of individual programs will discuss the issues and adjust their programs accordingly to benefit future students. Faculty, not students, are responsible for developing and assessing student development of the competencies, for purposes of program improvement.

8) Will students be responsible for taking classes in the six competency areas?

The goal is that students will develop the six competencies in fulfilling the program requirements for their major. The University Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies will oversee the assessment of student work to ensure that this is the case. For those programs that do not align fully with the competencies or where assessment of student outcomes indicates a problem in competency development, faculty in charge of individual programs will discuss the issues and make adjustments that will address the needs of future students.

9) Will students and advisers be able to see which courses help develop the individual competencies?

At present, The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) is mapping existing program learning outcomes and degree requirements, including required coursework, to the competencies. When this information is complete, it will be shared with individual programs. Keep in mind, however, that students’ priority and focus should be on fulfilling their program coursework requirements, which are designed to develop the competencies. Electives are available for further development of particular competencies.

10) In what ways will shared competencies affect current students?

Current students will see no changes to their academic program requirements. Faculty may incorporate competency language into existing course requirements or learning outcomes, but it is not required. Also, optional co-curricular activities may be described by using competency framing language.

Future students could see changes to academic program requirements as faculty improve and update programs (this is the same as the current situation). What is new is that future modifications may now be guided by and described using competency framing language.

11) How will shared competencies affect faculty?

Course and Program Design. The adoption of the shared competencies framework necessitates no changes to course and syllabus design unless faculty in the programs decide to do so. Faculty in the Schools and Colleges continue to determine the requirements for their degree programs. Individual faculty will continue to develop their own syllabi, in line with their program learning outcomes and University policies.

Assessment. The University Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies has set a tentative timeline for assessment of the competencies, beginning with the Communication Skills competency in the 2019-2020 academic year. Planning for this assessment, including evaluation of options for how the assessment will be done, will occur in spring 2019. The goals are to involve faculty and university stakeholders in the assessment process, but to minimize the assessment burden placed upon individual faculty, departments, and administrators. The latter can be done by using existing student coursework in the assessment process and by coordinating assessment approaches and deadlines with other reporting requirements (e.g., Middle States, program accreditation, etc.).

Information. The University Senate Ad Hoc Committee will continue to help administer and provide oversight of the competencies. The Ad Hoc Committee’s members are available to provide information and answer questions. The Provost regularly shares information on the competencies and the planned timeline for assessment with Senior Associate Deans in the Schools and Colleges, who in turn share this information with their faculty. In addition, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment will be the source of detailed information on assessment as the plan develops.

12) How and when will competency development be assessed in my academic program?

The assessment process is still being determined by the University Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies.

The timeline is as follows:

Spring 2019

  • Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) will map existing program learning outcomes and degree requirements to the competencies.
  • IEA will compile and share information on assessment options/models for the Ad Hoc Committee to consider and recommend. The Ad Hoc Committee, in consultation with the Provost and Associate Deans handling curriculum, will make a recommendation for an assessment model. The model will likely involve the assessment of student assignments in designated courses, using a standardized rubric.

Fall 2019 – Summer 2020

  • IEA will meet with academic programs to discuss the mapping drafts. Academic programs will have the opportunity to discuss the mapping drafts with department faculty and revise accordingly.
  • Assessment of the Communication Skills competency.
  • The Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies will seek to become a permanent standing committee via a Senate bylaw change.

Fall 2020

  • Assessment of one competency (to be determined).
  • The Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies will seek to become a permanent standing committee via a Senate bylaw change.

Fall 2021

  • Report to Middles States Commission on Higher Education on our initial two rounds of assessment.
  • Share a schedule with the campus community outlining the schedule of assessment over the next four years.

13) Who is working on the shared competencies initiative?

Provost Michele Wheatly and Associate Provost Chris Johnson lead the shared competencies initiative at the University level. They work in partnership with the University Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, led by Senior Assistant Provost Jerry Edmonds. Current membership on the Ad Hoc Committee is below:

Member Other University Senate Committee Affiliation Title / Unit
Anne Mosher Instruction, Chair Associate Professor, Arts and Sciences
Lois Agnew Instruction Associate Dean, Arts and Sciences
Karen Zannini Bull Ad Hoc Appointee Associate Dean, University College
John Dannenhoffer IIII Instruction Associate Professor, Engineering and Computer Science
Kelly Delevan Instruction Information Literacy Librarian
Siham Doughman Curricula University Registrar, Office of the Registrar
Gerald Edmonds Guest Senior Assistant Provost, Academic Affairs
Sophia Faram Student Association Student, Arts and Sciences
Carol Faulkner Curricula Associate Dean, Maxwell School
Mary Graham Ex Officio Appointee Provost Faculty Fellow and Prof., Falk College
Gerry Greenberg Ad Hoc Appointee Senior Associate Dean, Arts and Sciences
Amanda Johnson Sanguiliano Instruction Assessment Associate, Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment
Emily Stokes-Rees Agenda Committee Liaison Associate Professor, Visual and Performing Arts
Robert Van Gulick Instruction Professor, College of Arts and Sciences

Inquiries and ideas can be directed to Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (iea@syr.edu), Senate Ad Hoc Committee Chair Anne Mosher (amosher@maxwell.syr.edu) or Provost Faculty Fellow Mary Graham (megraham@syr.edu).

14) How can I get involved with the shared competencies initiative?


There are several involvement opportunities:

  1. Discuss the shared competencies at faculty/staff meetings.
  2. Discuss the shared competencies at Student Association meetings.
  3. When opportunities arise, participate in the assessment of the competencies.

15) Are other Universities using a shared competencies approach for undergraduate education?

Yes. In 2015, 85% of American Association of Colleges and Universities member institutions reported using a common set of learning outcomes for all students. All of the six competencies proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee are reflected in the top learning outcomes identified by these AAC&U institutions.

In addition, we consulted the websites of sixteen peer institutions, including eleven Middle States-accredited universities, of similar size and research emphasis. We found that nine of the sixteen schools examined (56%) used a competencies approach for general education. Some of these schools used competencies to complement conventional general education requirements and others used a competencies approach only.

16) What is the history of the shared competencies initiative at Syracuse University?

The history of the shared competencies initiative is as follows:

In 2014, a 27-member Academic Strategic Plan Steering Committee guided the planning and fact-finding process, elicited campus input from open forums, and drafted the Academic Strategic Plan, the Trajectory to Excellence. In 2015, the Academic Strategic Plan Working Group 1 developed the following goal that served as the foundation for the shared competencies discussion over the past few years:

“Clearly define and boldly instill a set of distinctive Syracuse University competencies, skills, experiences and values for all undergraduate students, to be collaboratively developed and consistently applied and acted upon at both the curricular and co-curricular levels across all schools and colleges.”

Upon the release of the Academic Strategic Plan, Implementation Working Group 1 was charged to further develop the competencies and plan for implementation. Multiple focus groups, presentations to all of the schools/colleges, and discussions were held to elicit faculty, staff, and student input. Individual comments were evaluated and incorporated into the competencies. This work also supported the new Middle States requirement outlined in standard III.5 a and b, EITHER (a) a free-standing, common general education program across all Schools and Colleges, OR, (b) a shared competencies approach.

In 2016, the 4+4 was developed and shared at a University Senate meeting and across campus.

In 2017, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies was charged to review the competencies that emerged from Working Group 1, to develop a mechanism for the Provost’s Office to regularly review the competencies, and to bring to the Senate any updates.

In spring 2018, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies conducted a survey of University Senators regarding the 4+4 shared competencies framework. Qualitative feedback from the survey was evaluated and incorporated into the competencies where possible. The following University Senate presentation shared the survey results: Spring 2018 University Senate Survey Results.

In fall 2018, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies revised the shared competencies, instituted a two-week open comment period, and revised the competencies again. The following University Senate presentation shared the survey results: Fall 2018 University Senate Survey Results.

17) Can I get more detail on the development of the shared competencies?

Yes, here is a link to the December 2018 Report by the Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Competencies to the University Senate.