Map A to Z Index Search CU Home University of Colorado
  Strategic Planning Institutional Research and Analysis Campus Budget and Finances About PBA

PBA Home > Institutional Research & Analysis > Outcomes Assessment > Unit Summaries > Department of Sociology

Department of Sociology
Last updated April 2003

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog.

In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2).

Assessment in 2001-02
Assessment prior to 1998

Assessment in 2001-02

Tom Mayer
Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs

Fields of Study

The undergraduate program of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado offers instruction in nine broad fields of sociology: (1) General Sociology [including the introductory and critical thinking courses], (2) Social Problems, (3) Sociological Theory, (4) Research Methods, (5) Sex and Gender, (6) Conflict and Inequality, (7) Crime and Social Control, (8) Population and Environment, and (9) Consciousness and Society. Sociology is a very spacious subject, and these nine fields do not blanket the entire domain of sociology. Nevertheless they do cover a very substantial share of the discipline, and they do reflect the intellectual strengths of the Sociology Department at Boulder. Given the resources available to our Department, more extensive coverage of the discipline is not feasible, nor is it currently demanded by our undergraduate students.

The CU Sociology Department tries to offer undergraduate courses in each of these nine fields during every semester. The nature of the courses offered varies from large lecture classes to small seminars, and in recent years the average size of sociology undergraduate courses has been in the high sixties or low seventies. These courses are taught by a mix of tenure track faculty, permanent instructors, temporary instructors, and graduate students. Evidence on teaching performance is reviewed regularly by the Graduate Committee, the Undergraduate Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Department in order to maintain high quality instruction. Although constraints on the available evidence and also on the available personnel limit the extent of quality control possible, most indicators suggest the Department does quite well in providing high caliber teaching.

The undergraduate program of the Department of Sociology, it should be noted, is considerably broader than the graduate program largely because the latter strives for a high degree of specialization. In rare cases undergraduate students are permitted to take graduate courses, but this practice is not encouraged. Much undergraduate sociology instruction takes place outside of the classroom in the form of independent study projects, service internships, and research collaboration between undergraduates and faculty members. The excellent academic advising program also makes an invaluable contribution to undergraduate education in the Department of Sociology (and elsewhere).


During the fall semester of 2001 the Department of Sociology offered 35 different undergraduate courses and 50 different classes (some courses have several separate classes). The largest class enrolled 499 students and the smallest class only 6. A total of 3,321 students took sociology undergraduate classes in the fall of 2001 giving a mean class size of 66.4. [The standard deviation of undergraduate class size was 88.6 which, when compared to the mean, indicates that the distribution was skewed towards large classes.]

During the spring semester of 2002 the Sociology Department gave 34 different undergraduate courses organized into 45 different classes. The largest class had 511 students while the smallest undergraduate class enrolled only 9. A total of 3,227 students took undergraduate sociology classes for a mean class size of 71.7 with standard deviation of 105.1 [again indicating a distribution skewed towards large classes].

Information about the distribution of enrollment among the nine fields of sociology represented within the undergraduate curriculum is presented in Tables 1 and 2 below. Table 1 concerns the fall semester 0f 2001, while Table 2 considers the spring semester of 2002. Observe that in both semesters the highest student enrollment occurred within the Sex and Gender and the Crime and Social Control fields. To a certain extent this reflects the schedule of available courses, but it also indicates the topical preferences of undergraduate students at the University of Colorado. In both semesters the smallest mean class size occurred in the Research Methods and in the Population and Environment fields. In the case of Research Methods, the small mean class size emerges from the pedagogical requirements of the subject. The Department of Sociology has voted to make environmental sociology one of its specializations, which may influence future enrollment in Population and Environment courses.

Table 1: Statistics about Distribution of Undergraduate Enrollment among Fields of Sociology: Fall 2001

Course Number of Students Number of Courses Number of Classes Largest Class Smallest Class Mean Class Size
General Sociology 511 3 5 383 11 102.2
Social Problems 252 4 4 123 17 63.0
Sociological Theory 159 2 2 123 36 79.5
Research Methods 258 5 10 38 10 25.8
Sex and Gender 781 4 8 210 33 97.6
Conflict and Inequality 252 4 4 116 28 63.0
Crime and Social Control 785 8 8 499 6 98.1
Population and Environment 74 2 2 41 33 37.0
Consciousness and Ideology 183 4 4 54 38 45.8

Table 2: Statistics about Distribution of Undergraduate Enrollment among Fields of Sociology: Spring 2002

Course Number of Students Number of Courses Number of Classes Largest Class Smallest Class Mean Class Size
General Sociology 552 3 4 488 10 138.0
Social Problems 148 2 2 100 48 74.0
Sociological Theory 145 2 2 102 43 72.5
Research Methods 205 4 6 92 11 34.2
Sex and Gender 736 4 6 269 35 122.7
Conflict and Inequality 314 4 7 103 18 44.9
Crime and Social Control 813 8 10 511 9 81.3
Population and Environment 114 3 3 40 36 38.0
Consciousness and Ideology 165 4 4 56 33 41.3

Teaching Staff

As mentioned earlier, undergraduate sociology courses are taught by four types of instructors: tenure track faculty, permanent instructors, temporary instructors, and graduate students. We shall call the first two categories regular instructors and the second two categories supplementary instructors. During the fall semester of 2001, 28 out of 50 or 56% of undergraduate sociology classes were taught by regular instructors. In terms of enrollment, 61.1% of students taking undergraduate sociology classes had a regular rather than a supplementary instructor. The percentages were not as high during the spring semester of 2002. During that semester 16 out of 45 or 35.6% of undergraduate sociology classes were taught by regular instructors, and only 51.5% of students enrolled in such classes had a regular instructor.

Throughout the 2001-02 academic year, most but certainly not all of the very large classes were taught by regular instructors. During the fall semester three classes of over 100 students were taught by supplementary instructors. In the spring semester supplementary instructors taught four classes with more than 100 students. The Sociology Department is currently reshaping its teaching schedule so that all very large classes will be taught by regular faculty members. We are also attempting to reorganize the graduate program so that teaching obligations do not prevent graduate students from completing their doctoral degree.

Course Evaluations

The Undergraduate Committee of the Sociology Department is currently exploring new ways to evaluate the academic accomplishments of undergraduate sociology majors. Unfortunately the only systematic evidence of course quality available for the 2001-02 academic year comes from the Faculty Course Questionnaires (FCQ). Some statistics derived from these sources are reported below.

Undergraduate sociology courses perform rather well in terms of FCQ criteria. 23.2% of undergraduate sociology courses taught in the fall semester of 2001 were rated within the A range, and the median course rating was B. The sociology undergraduate program looked even better on the basis of FCQ instructor ratings. Here 43.8% fell within the A range and the median instructor rating was B+. The figures for the spring semester of 2002 are quite similar. In terms of course rating 23.9% fell within the A range, and the median course rating was once again B. With regard to instructor rating 49.6% were in the A range, and the median instructor rating was again B+.

More detailed FCQ information on course and instructor ratings is presented in Table 3, which reports both frequencies and percentages. These ratings include sections within particular classes, and thus the frequencies depart considerably from the numbers previously given which did not include sections within any single class.

Table 3: Course and Instructor FCQ Rating Distributions for the Fall Semester 0f 2001 and the Spring Semester of 2002

  A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D
Fall Semester 2001
     Course Rating
4 15 7 23 41 10 6 5 0 1 0
  3.6% 13.4 6.3 20.5 36.6 8.9 5.4 4.4   0.9  
     Instructor Rating 9 24 16 23 26 7 4 2 0 0 1
  8.0% 21.4 14.3 20.5 23.2 6.3 3.6 1.8     0.9
Spring Semester 2002
     Course Rating
6 10 12 23 50 9 4 2 0 1 0
  5.1% 8.6 10.3 19.9 42.7 7.7 3.4 1.7   0.9  
     Instructor Rating 9 26 23 19 28 6 2 2 1 1 1
  7.7% 22.2 19.7 16.2 23.9 5.1 1.7 1.7 0.9 0.9 0.9

There is some evidence that courses taught by regular faculty receive higher ratings than courses taught by supplementary faculty. In the fall of 2001, the course and instructor median ratings for regular faculty were B+ and A- respectively as compared with B and B+ for the supplementary faculty. During the spring semester of 2002, the course and instructor median ratings were A/A- and A-/B+ for the regular faculty compared with B and B+ for the supplementary faculty. While these differences are not great, they do suggest that the greater experience and the (presumably) greater knowledge of the regular faculty do make a difference.

Special Programs

The undergraduate program of the Department of Sociology has a number of special programs that deserve mention. Service learning has a long tradition within the Sociology Department. This involves learning about sociological realities through practical services activities within the larger community. The INVST Community Studies program at the University of Colorado was founded by sociologists, and is still staffed largely by people linked with the Department of Sociology. Under the auspices of this program undergraduate students do service learning in urban and rural settings throughout the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. INVST Community Studies has made an outstanding contribution to undergraduate education at CU and will continue to do so in the future.

Another kind of service learning within the Department of Sociology is the Community Corrections Internship. This program places students in selected locations within the county, state, and federal justice systems. Undergraduate sociology majors have repeatedly indicated that they would like more service learning opportunities. Unfortunately financial exigencies threaten continuation of existing service learning programs, and virtually eliminate any possibility of expansion within the foreseeable future.

The Honors Program in the Department of Sociology requires that students take two special honors seminars, and that they write and defend an honors thesis based upon original research. Ten sociology majors graduated with honors in May 2002 having completed the requirements of the Honors Program. Four of these students graduated summa cum laude, and eight of the honors students presented papers on their research work at the April 2002 meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association in Vancouver. Such participation by undergraduate students at a professional meeting is indeed a remarkable achievement. Students graduating with honors have often shown remarkable loyalty to both the Department of Sociology and the University of Colorado.

Future Directions

During the 2001-02 academic year, the Department of Sociology established a new grievance procedure giving more authority for resolving the complaints of undergraduate students to the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Affairs. This procedure was intended to reduce the burden on the department chair, and also to increase the likelihood of amicable dispute resolution. The new grievance procedure is being tested and fine-tuned during the current academic year.

During the spring semester of 2002 the Undergraduate Committee developed detailed proposals for a revised sociology curriculum. The revised curriculum was designed to accommodate both the expressed interests of undergraduate students and the resources available to the Sociology Department. The revised curriculum has gone through several iterations and has not yet been accepted by the faculty. It still requires certain alterations in light of specialization decisions made by the faculty during the past summer. The underlying principle of the revised curriculum - developing large introductory courses in each undergraduate field of concentration while protecting special programs and smaller courses at more advanced levels - appears to have broad acceptance among department faculty. However, is not yet official policy.

The Undergraduate Committee is currently exploring new ways of evaluating the undergraduate sociology program. One approach involves evaluating the capacity of senior sociology majors to comprehend current sociological literature. Another approach is based upon nationally standardized tests. Other evaluation procedures are under consideration. The object is to find an evaluation procedure that not only satisfies administrative requirements, but also provides information useful for improving the undergraduate sociology program.

Assessment prior to 1998

Since 1990-91 the department has assessed students' knowledge of the concepts, data, theory, and modes of explanation in the field (goal K-1) with the Major Field Achievement Test (MFAT) in sociology. The MFAT is a nationally standardized exam, based on the GRE, designed to assess knowledge and skills in the major. Since 1991-92, the exam has been administered during regular class hours in upper-division classes with large numbers of senior majors. (An examination of class rosters insures that students in more than one of these classes are tested only once.) As a result, through 1994-95 80-90% of the graduating seniors participated in the assessment. New course requirements in 1995-96 spread senior majors into a larger number of small classes than had previously been the case. This made it difficult to involve large numbers of seniors in outcomes assessment by focusing on a few required courses. The faculty are examining other approaches to insure student participation, including the possibility of including outcomes assessment in a senior-level majors-only critical thinking course that is being considered as part of an ongoing review of the undergraduate curriculum.

The pattern of results on the exam's eight subareas is studied for information about the curriculum's strengths and weaknesses. The areas are methodology and statistics, general theory, demography and urban/rural sociology, social psychology, social stratification, race and ethnic relations, deviance and social control, social institutions, complex organization, and social change. The department compares CU-Boulder majors' performance with the national sample and with what the curriculum offers in each area.

In general, CU-Boulder averages are close to the national averages in each area. CU-Boulder students' relative performance in the various areas has stayed fairly stable from year to year and from term to term within a year, indicating some degree of consistency in the program. The best scores tend to be in deviance and social control, social institutions, and social stratification, and the worst in general theory, demography and urban/rural sociology, and race and ethnic relations. The national sample shows a similar pattern. While this indicates that the CU-Boulder program's relative strengths and weaknesses are similar to those of other sociology departments, the faculty recognize that they do not have to accept those weaknesses.

Recommendations for curricular improvement have included building up the statistics portion of the methods sequence and strengthening the social theory component. A specialist in social theory was added to the faculty in 1993-94, and an ethnographer in 1994-95. A recent revision to the undergraduate program requires a three semester methods sequence which offers undergraduates experience in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, and the department is considering requiring students to successfully complete a basic statistics test before taking any methods courses. Other changes in the undergraduate program are being considered, including new requirements for majors and a different pattern of statistics and methods courses.

Using the MFAT was successful in part because sociology majors through 1994-95 were able to take the two-hour exam in the context of a required 6-hour methods course. The department's revision of its major requirements effective fall 1995 involved substituting several 3-hour courses for the 6-hour methods courses that had previously provided us with a vehicle for administering the MFAT. A regular class hour, whether 50 or 75 minutes is insufficient time to complete this exam.

In 1995-96 we asked seniors to take the MFAT on a voluntary basis (under supervision in the department office), with the result that only 12 students did so. For 1996-97 we asked faculty who teach the required Critical Thinking courses to cancel one class during a designated week of spring semester so that graduating seniors could take the exam in the UMC, again voluntarily and supervised but outside the confines of a regular class. The result is that 13 students did so. It is clear that a voluntary approach does not yield enough cases to make legitimate conclusions about the effectiveness of the sociology education of graduating seniors.

As it became clear that this strategy simply did not work, the department outcomes coordinator met with the undergraduate committee to request that the MFAT be made mandatory for all graduating seniors. The idea is that it become part of the requirements included in the graduation packet. The committee approved this motion and the plan was okayed by Arts and Sciences dean's office. It makes sense to have the exam be mandatory in that outcomes assessment is mandatory.

The plan will be presented to the department's faculty in fall 1997. Also at issue is how to sample so that, because of budgetary considerations, one-half the eligible students take the test; and finally, what additional measures we might use to complement the test as part of outcomes assessment. One possibility is an exit interview similar to the one used by the Psychology department. Discussion about this important task, especially among members of the undergraduate committee and methods experts in the department, continues. A policy for 1997-98 will be in place in September 1997.

l:\ir\Outcomes\OA9495\ and OA0102\soci.doc

Main Sociology Outcomes Report
Index of unit reports

Last revision 06/21/05

PBA Home  |   Strategic Planning  |   Institutional Research & Analysis |  Budget & Finances  | 
Questions? Comments? |  Legal & Trademarks |  Privacy
15 UCB, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309-0015, (303)492-8631
  © Regents of the University of Colorado