The Forum | General Education

MissionU vs. BloatedU: How the Liberal Arts Can Compete by Getting Lean, Smart and Effective

April 20, 2017

EdSurge, a leading news outlet that covers education technology and innovation, is out with a new podcast debating the emergence of MissionU, a new workforce-oriented alternative to college, which students pay for through an income share agreement after they secure employment.

But there’s a catch – this alternative college model features no general education requirements or traditional liberal arts programming. MissionU’s basics only curriculum has reignited the debate over the utility of a liberal education and poorly-designed general education requirements, which critics allege drive up cost and time-to-degree. There is an overlooked point hidden in this debate though: diffuse coursework and pop culture-focused electives all too often satisfy graduation requirements for the B.A. at “TraditionalU.”

Ironically, these “gen-ed-free” competitors make a salient point about the importance of a well-designed undergraduate curriculum. Now’s the time to take up the long overdue task of restoring serious and intellectually-rich core curriculum; in fact, doing so will save scarce resources and help them stay competitive.

ACTA’s 2015 report, The Cost of Chaos in the Curriculum, found that at most schools, the sweeping lists of general education choices actually drives up the costs for the institution and for students. The report’s authors, ACTA’s President Michael Poliakoff and ACTA Scholar-in-Residence and former Arizona State University provost Betty Capaldi Philips, found that offering an efficient core curriculum can actually offer strong cost reductions, nearly 10% of educational costs per semester, which are ultimately reflected in the real tuition cost paid by students.

Incoherence and bloat in the curriculum are trivializing the value of the liberal arts. Workforce pressures and the explosion in alternative models such as MissionU are a warning that advocates for open curriculum and vague distribution requirements are simply whistling in the dark when it comes to providing a viable path forward for delivering a thorough and meaningful liberal arts education.  As colleges and universities navigate today’s treacherous financial landscape, there’s a real imperative to offer a rigorous, but efficient core curriculum to ensure that students get an affordable education that prepares them for the workforce.

The EdSurge podcast hosted by senior editor Jeff Young can be found embedded below.


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