SCOTT: New College Curriculum best option for new students

The New College Curriculum achieves the purpose of general education most effectively

op-scott-MLezzam

The introduction of new general education curricula has provided new students with a unique opportunity to choose their requirements.

Maya Lezzam | Cavalier Daily

The College of Arts and Sciences has recently added two more options for students to complete their general education requirements outside of the traditional curriculum. The first alternate general education curriculum, called the Forums, was launched in the 2016-17 academic year. Soon after, in the 2017-18 academic year, the second alternative, known as the New College Curriculum, was implemented. All of these potential have their merits, but after examining the options, the New College Curriculum comes out on top.

The traditional curriculum consists of two components — Area Requirements and Competency Requirements. The former is made up of 30 credits that must be fulfilled with a variety of courses in different subject areas, such as humanities and social sciences. This component ensures that College students receive a well-rounded, liberal arts education during their time at the University. To complement this, the Competency Requirements are intended to develop important skills in students, namely writing and foreign language proficiency.

The Forums are a collection of cohorts in which each cohort — consisting of about 40 students — uses its general requirements to study a specific topic. These topics range from Epidemics to Religion, Politics, and Conflict. Due to the vast differences in the topics, the coursework that the students of each Forum takes is greatly varied. Despite the diversity of coursework among the Forums, they all entail the completion of an introductory seminar and a capstone seminar, each based on the Forum’s topic. In addition to the Forum-specific curriculum, the students in the Forums must complete the same Competency Requirements required by the traditional curriculum. 

The New College Curriculum is broken up into Engagements, Disciplines and Literacies. Students under this curriculum must take four two-credit seminars during their first year, each lasting a half of a semester. Each class deals with a different way that one can perceive and learn from the world. Students are also required to take three credits in each of the seven categories of Disciplines, such as Science & Society and Historical Perspectives. Akin to the Area Requirements of the traditional curriculum, this is designed to assure that all students receive an educational background in a variety of disciplines. Finally, New College Curriculum students need to take Literacies. This is, in essence, the Competency Requirement of the traditional and Forum curricula — two writing requirements and a foreign language requirement — plus a six credit requirement for Quantification, Computation and Data Analysis that could include courses in math, statistics, psychology or other quantitative fields. 

Of the three curricula, the traditional requirements is the most flexible. The only required classes are in the Competency Requirements which are shared by both of the alternative curricula. For their part, the Area Requirements provide numerous options to fulfill the requirements. For example, the social science requirements can be completed by taking almost any class in economics, anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology and more. However, this flexibility can be problematic because it leads to a mindset of trying to complete the curriculum with the least amount of credits possible, instead of actually trying to learn from the curriculum.

The Forum curriculum is by far the most specific of the three curriculum. The topics of the Forums generally have a skew towards one subject area and, in turn, skews the required coursework. For example, I recently completed the Mobility and Community Forum, which focused on the relationship between residential mobility and the efficacy of communities. This Forum was largely based in the social sciences and as such I only took four classes outside of the social sciences to complete the non-competency requirements. I was happy with this because of both course interest and credit overlap with my majors, but it also seems to defeat the purpose of general education requirements to begin with — to have students take classes they normally wouldn’t. However, having the same 40 students together for two years allows for a class cohesiveness that is unmatched by the other curricula.

While the other two curricula effectively educate undergraduates, the New College Curriculum does it the best. Both the Engagements and the Disciplines require students to take courses in a broad array of fields. This means that all students take courses in various areas of arts and sciences before completing the curriculum. Furthermore, the Engagements have the added benefit of being a small seminar format in students’ first year, when many of their other classes are rather large. My biggest complaint with this curriculum is the jargony language that makes it difficult to comprehend, but, as students and faculty grow more accustomed to this curriculum, it will become more easily understood.

The introduction of new general education curricula has provided new students with a unique opportunity to choose their requirements. Each of the general education curricula has its own advantages and disadvantages that students should consider when deciding which one they should complete. However, I believe that the New College Curriculum achieves the purpose of general education most effectively.

Gavin Scott is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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