Trustees | General Education

CUNY Campuses Measure Up to Ivy League

Core Curriculums Shine at Hunter, Brooklyn Colleges
NEW YORK SUN   |  May 13, 2004 by Jacob Gershman

Two CUNY campuses offer a more comprehensive core curriculum than Ivy League institutions, according to a recent survey. 

Titled “Hollow Core,” the survey, conducted by the Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, found that core curriculums offered at Hunter and Brooklyn colleges outranked those of the Ivy League in terms of the scope of required subjects. 

For instance, Hunter requires students to take courses in writing, foreign language, American government or history, math, and science, earning it a grade of B in the survey. Yale, on the other hand, earned a barely passing D, requiring only foreign language and science, according to the survey. 
“Maybe CUNY recognizes the needs of their students and the Ivies are probably kidding themselves,” said Barry Latzer, director of higher education policy at the council and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “CUNY, I think, is more realistic in assessing where their students are.” 
The highest-ranked Ivy League was Columbia University, which received a C grade. Columbia’s core is lacking in American government, economics, math, and science courses, the survey found. 
Columbia’s core, which includes courses such as “Contemporary Civilizations” and “Masterpieces of Western Literature and Philosophy,” is one of its main selling points in its recruitment brochures. 

The survey found that many schools have substituted a “cafeteria-style” curriculum for a “rigorous, sequential curriculum.” It found that 62% of the schools surveyed, including the Big Ten, Big Eight schools, do not require math, and 30% do not require students to take any writing courses. No school required students to take economics. 

While the survey isn’t intended to show that CUNY schools offered a superior education to the Ivy League, it argues that Ivy League schools often assume their students know more than they do. 

“We don’t think an 18-year-old who just started college knows which way is up in terms of courses,” Mr. Latzer said. “Colleges must give more guidance.” 
The acting dean of arts and sciences at Hunter College, Judith Friedlander, said Hunter has insisted on preserving its core curriculum.

“In keeping with our tradition, we seek to provide our current student body with the same opportunities earlier generations had by giving them a rigorous course of study,” Ms. Friedlander said. “It’s a very tall order for most universities, but we take it very seriously.” 
The survey did not measure the quality of the courses offered; just whether the schools required students to take courses in a set of seven pre-selected subjects. 

The survey also took into account how much leeway students have. While many schools require science, the survey did not give credit to schools that allow students to take psychology instead of courses like biology, chemistry, or physics.


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