ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Colorado’s New Core Curriculum

July 24, 2005 by ACTA

Writing for the Rocky Mountain News, ACTA president Anne Neal praises Colorado's return to a more traditional concept of the college curriculum:

Colorado's focus on a strong general education will give its college graduates a competitive edge. Students in other states can graduate with a patchwork of narrow and often trendy courses outside of their majors. Colorado's graduates will have the advantage of a coherent and cohesive general education requirement - precisely the broad exposure needed for productive workers, informed citizens and lifelong learners.

It used to be that all colleges and universities in America insisted on a rigorous, sequential curriculum that ensured students a broad, general education in addition to the specialization provided by their major. Courses covered the most important events, ideas or works known to mankind - material considered essential for an educated person. Students were given a common educational foundation on which to build. This was, truly, learning for a lifetime.

Nowadays, however, virtually unlimited choice has supplanted the concept of a rigorous general education. The Hollow Core, a recent study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, found that 48 percent of the colleges surveyed, including the Big 10, the Big 12, the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters, require no more than two true core courses, and 24 percent require one or no course at all. The University of Colorado got a "D" for its general education curriculum because its graduates need not complete any solid courses in writing, literature, government, history, economics or mathematics.

Today's colleges give the appearance of providing a core curriculum because they require students to take courses in several subject areas - the so-called distribution requirements. Within each subject area, however, it is not uncommon for students to have dozens, even hundreds, of courses from which to choose - many of them narrow and even frivolous.

Left to their own devices, students tend to pick courses that sound sexy, or are easy A's, or meet after 10 in the morning. The result has been a dumbing down of general education with potentially disastrous consequences for an entire generation of college graduates.

By revamping its general education curriculum, Colorado can lead the nation in reversing the trend. Success here will encourage governing boards around the country to insist that faculty design and require general education courses that are limited in number and broad in scope, courses that together form a coherent whole. Only such a curriculum can address lifelong educational needs, not mere youthful interests.

Neal goes on to note that the smorgasboard approach to general requirements currently in place at most colleges and universities virtually ensures that America's college graduates are not prepared to comprehend--and therefore to navigate--our increasingly complex and rapidly changing world.

In part, Neal notes, this lack of preparation amounts to a fundamental illiteracy about how economies work. College students today are not required to take an economics course to graduate, and yet every adult in this country needs to understand basic economic principles: "On any single day, news headlines talk about tax cuts, deficits, globalization, trade barriers, oil prices, interest rates, inflation, monetary policy, free markets, etc. If you want to succeed in today's economy - or vote intelligently in elections - you have to understand not only what these terms mean, but also the basic ideas of economics: how the law of supply and demand affects oil prices, how government spending affects inflation, how interest rates affect the stock market, how tax cuts affect investment, and so on." The result, Neal points out, is that we are fast becoming a nation of economic illiterates. More generally, Neal argues, the lack of a solid core curriculum means that college students are not reliably learning to distinguish between sound reasoning and its deceptive relations, "sophistry" and "rationalization": "Only by disciplines that teach them these differences can they hope to resist the demagogue and propagandist."

Read about the "hollow core" at the heart of the higher education curriculum at the American Council for Trustees and Alumni website. For more information on how that core got hollowed out, see Charles Sykes' hard-hitting Profscam.

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