Montana University System Common Course Numbering
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who decided we had to change our course labels?
In 2004, the Montana Legislature completed a Legislative Performance Audit of transferability among the campuses of the Montana University System (MUS). This audit identified patterns of problems experienced by students seeking to transfer credits from one campus to another, and concluded that the MUS has failed to provide students with a reasonable level of “transparency and predictability” about transfer of courses and credits. Three years later, the 2007 Montana Legislature funded a request from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) to provide staff and operating resources to comprehensively review all undergraduate courses in order to identify courses that will transfer as equivalents.
The decision to change course labels—the “common-course numbering” project—represented OCHE’s tactic to provide the kind of “transparency and predictability” that the Legislature had found lacking. Under common-course numbering, any course determined by faculty to be equivalent to any other course must have the same prefix, number, and title. This required everyone to adopt a new set of course labels.
2. Who makes the decisions about whether courses in my department are equivalent to those at another campus?
Academic leaders at each campus were asked to identify and engage appropriate faculty to represent the courses in each field being reviewed. Those faculty representatives became members of various Faculty Learning Outcomes Councils (FLOCs) charged with reviewing all courses in a specific academic field and determining which courses are equivalent and which are unique to a single campus.
3. What about faculty control over the curriculum and academic freedom? Doesn’t the Transfer Initiative undercut the authority of faculty to maintain control over the character and quality of their academic programs?
Just the opposite. The Transfer Initiative’s CCN project proactively convened faculty from the different campuses to deliberate and reach consensus about which courses are expected to share essentially similar character, rigor, coverage, and purpose—translated into the sometimes-unfamiliar language of “learning outcomes.” No one in any of the FLOCs was compelled to change a course to make it conform to another campus’s instance of a similar course. If a faculty representative from a campus decided that a course wasn’t close enough to be considered equivalent to others in the system, then it was assigned a different number and title, and students will see that it will not automatically transfer to that campus, as it will to others.
The Transferability Initiative’s Common-Course Numbering project merely “front-loads” the decision-making about transferability and does so in a more comprehensive and inclusive way. Instead of piling these decisions on intake staff and faculty at each campus, the project makes it easier to process transfer requests by communicating predetermined course equivalencies on each student’s transcript. Transcript review of transfer requests then can focus on what to do with courses that aren’t equivalent.
4. Does the search for equivalent courses require that campuses change their courses to conform to a single model? Do common course numbers mean that the same syllabus, textbook, and exams are to be used on each campus?
No, common course numbers mean that courses deemed to be within the 80% equivalency guidelines transfer directly to a receiving campus. Because equivalency is determined based on projected learning outcomes (not syllabi, catalog descriptions, textbooks, instructors, or facilities) as the primary guideline to what a student will be able to do or accomplish upon completion and passing of that course, how or where the course is taught should not be an issue. Some FLOC discussions have led to greater consensus about outcomes and to individual agreement about best practices, but that decision is left to faculty in each field, at each campus.
5. How does the CCN affect the process of authorizing course changes (additions, deletions, modifications) on our campus? Do ALL campuses have to agree to changes at ONE campus?
New or modified courses will go through essentially the same process they go through on each campus now, with two additional steps added to the curriculum development process for that campus. First the campus must answer a preliminary question: “Is this course equivalent to a current course on the MUS matrix?” If so, you need to contact the other campuses who offer this class to confirm its equivalency. Second, if the course is found not to be equivalent to a course on the current matrix, the course syllabus and learning outcomes of the new course must be sent to OCHE and a combination of prefix, number, and title must be proposed that, together with the learning outcomes statements, make clear the uniqueness of the course, as well as its appropriate placement among others in the discipline.
Consensus among campuses is required only for proposed courses that might (or might not) be equivalent to others in the system. New and obviously unique courses can be put up with little or no consultation with other campuses. Discussion (not permission) is needed to retain consensus about equivalency and difference among similar courses.
6. Why can’t we continue to cross-list courses using multiple prefixes (rubrics)?
Cross-listing of courses serves many purposes on individual campuses, but it cannot be deployed effectively in a common-course numbering environment—its very assumptions run counter to the principles underlying the CCN project. Cross listing basically means giving the same course multiple labels for the purpose of communicating what academic programs make use of it and count it toward their major requirements. By contrast, CCN operates on the dictum that a single course can have one and only one label—otherwise different users of the system have no way of knowing whether a course has other equivalents listed with different prefixes, numbers, or titles. Cross-listing may still be used by campuses as a locally-useful strategy to show how different campus entities make use of a single course. But because every campus’s cross-listing differs, attempting to build cross-listing into the systemwide database of courses would inevitably destroy the usefulness of the database.
7. What is an “integrated lab”?
Especially in the sciences, some campuses take great care to give separate identity to laboratory co-requisites, while other campuses are just as emphatic about melding laboratory work into the structure of a course. To ensure that such formalities don’t distort or impede the identification of equivalent course units (lecture + lab), the CCN array identifies all lecture + lab combinations as separate units, but indicates which campuses integrate their lab work together with the lecture portion of the course.
8. Who gets the FTE/SCH credit If the prefix for my course changes to something different from my department?
Much anxiety has emerged in response to the assignment of new prefixes for groups of courses, and much of this anxiety arises from the fear that student credit hours and full-time equivalent reporting (SCH/FTE) of productivity / workload / budgeting considerations are based on the rubric or prefix of a course. That is, there is an assumption that all courses shown with an M rubric or prefix will always credit their SCH/FTE to the Math Department. Campus leaders at every unit have declared that this concern is unfounded—that credit for a course taught at any campus is associated with academic home of the faculty member teaching the course—whatever rubric or prefix might be assigned to the course. Credit for an engineering course taught by a faculty member in the English Department would go to the English Department, not to Engineering.
9. Why can’t we use existing prefixes (rubrics) in the common-course numbering system?
First, the “new start” was deemed necessary to reduce transcript confusion during the transition from the past system of independently-determined course & discipline labels to the new system of shared course labels mandated by the CCN Policy (BOR 301.5.5).
Moreover, one of the most difficult concepts for faculty to grasp about the CCN project is that the new prefixes are deliberately dissociated from administrative units—the prefix only refers to courses belonging to a field of study, not to a department, division, program, school, or degree. Where the two coincide, there’s little struggle (psychology, sociology, math—PSYX, SOCI, and M--all name both the field and the department and the degree at all campuses). But when different campuses offer equivalent courses from differently-named departments, and when those courses contribute to differently-named majors, it becomes necessary to assert the neutrality of the prefix in order to allow faculty to acknowledge course equivalencies across these localized administrative boundaries.