“The Boston University Task Force on General Education has submitted a report to the University Council that outlines a vision for the first ever university-wide general education program as the initial step before the program’s scheduled implementation in the fall 2017 semester.”
At the undergraduate level, individual college and university administrations and faculties sometimes mandate core curricula, especially in theliberal arts. But because of increasing specialization and depth in the student’s major field of study, a typical core curriculum in higher education mandates a far smaller proportion of a student’s course work than a high school or elementary school core curriculum prescribes.
Amongst the best known and most expansive core curricula programs at leading American colleges and universities are that of Columbia College at Columbia University, as well as the University of Chicago‘s. Both can take up to two years to complete without advanced standing, and are designed to foster critical skills in a broad range of academic disciplines, including: the social sciences, humanities, physical and biological sciences, mathematics, writing and foreign languages.
In 1999, the University of Chicago announced plans to reduce and modify the content of its core curriculum, including lowering the number of required courses from 21 to 15 and offering a wider range of content. When The New York Times, The Economist, and other major news outlets picked up this story, the University became the focal point of a national debate on education. The National Association of Scholars released a statement saying, “It is truly depressing to observe a steady abandonment of the University of Chicago’s once imposing undergraduate core curriculum, which for so long stood as the benchmark of content and rigor among American academic institutions.” Simultaneously, however, a set of university administrators, notably then-President Hugo Sonnenschein, argued that reducing the core curriculum had become both a financial and educational imperative, as the university was struggling to attract a commensurate volume of applicants to its undergraduate division compared to peer schools as a result of what was perceived by the pro-change camp as a reaction by “the average eighteen-year-old” to the expanse of the collegiate core.
As core curricula began to diminish over the course of the twentieth century at many American schools, some smaller institutions became famous for embracing a core curriculum that covers nearly the student’s entire undergraduate education, often utilizing classic texts of the western canon to teach all subjects including science. Four Great Books colleges in the United States follow this approach: St. John’s, Shimer, Thomas Aquinas, Gutenberg College and Thomas More.
Some colleges opt for the middle ground of the continuum between specified and unspecified curricula by using a system of distribution requirements. In such a system, students are required to take courses in particular fields of learning, but are free to choose specific courses within those fields.
Other institutions have largely done away with core requirements in their entirety. Brown University offers the “New Curriculum,” implemented after a student-led reform movement in 1969, which allows students to take courses without concern for any requirements except those in their chosen concentrations (majors), plus two writing courses. In this vein it is certainly possible for students to graduate without taking college-level science or math courses, or to take only science or math courses. Amherst College requires that students take one of a list of first-year seminars, but has no required classes or distribution requirements. Similarly, Grinnell College requires students to take a First-Year Tutorial in their first semester, and has no other class or distribution requirements. Others include Evergreen State College, Hamilton College, and Smith College.
Wesleyan University is another school that has not and does not require any set distribution of courses. However, Wesleyan does make clear “General Education Expectations” such that if a student does not meet these expectations, he/she would not be eligible for academic honors upon graduation.
Enjoyed reading how Harvard does its Gen Ed. You can read about it here.
Welcome to General-Education.com. This is my first post on what I hope will be a useful blog about all aspects of general education.