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How Brandeis’ new gen. ed. proposal compares to Boston-area colleges

By Ariella Gentin and Ryan Spencer

Section: News

October 13, 2017

For the first time in 23 years, Brandeis is fully revising its General Education Requirements. If the new plan is approved the number required courses will change from 11 to 13, with the addition of requirements in Digital Literacy and Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the U.S. The new requirements would take effect in 2019 for the incoming first-year class.

A number of previously required courses will be altered as well. The University Writing Seminar, for instance, will require students to attend two “critical conversations” led by professors and an out-of-class experiential learning project.

In the report, the Task Force named a number of reasons they are adjusting the requirements. The primary reason was that as the world changes, the skills graduates need to navigate their careers and future, will change. As such, the new requirements add classes with a focus on technology, a globalized world, and climate change. The report also states “examining requirements and changes at other institutions” played a role in their decision to revise Brandeis’ curriculum.

Last March, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved a new General Education program which will begin in the Fall of 2018. The program will allow students to take up to half of the program’s requirements’ pass-fail, according to the Harvard Crimson. Brandeis allows students to take one general education requirement pass-fail, which will not change under the new guidelines.

Harvard University’s new requirements ask students to take one course in each of their four General Education categories: Aesthetics and Culture; Histories, Societies, Individuals; Science and Technology in Society; and Ethics and Civics.  In addition, Harvard students must take at least one class in Arts and Sciences, Science and Engineering, Social Sciences and a Quantitative Facility requirement.  This is similar to Brandeis except that Harvard does not require an Arts distribution and Brandeis does not require Engineering.

The Task Force noted in their report that at least 12 of Brandeis’ peer institutions have roughly the same number of general education requirements. Among the examples cited were Harvard University, Tufts University, Boston University, New York University and Washington University in St. Louis. Though the number of requirements may be similar, the course content required is not necessarily.

At Boston College (BC), for instance, there are 15 core requirements, and students must take two courses in Natural Sciences (i.e. biology, chemistry), two courses in History and two courses in Theology. BC is a Jesuit university; Brandeis is non-sectarian.

Tufts University has school distribution requirements similar to Brandeis and requires two semesters of college writing to be completed during students’ first year plus a non-western/world civilizations requirement. Brandeis also has a Writing Intensive and non-western requirement. Tufts mandates the equivalent of third-semester college level language—the same way Brandeis does. However, Tufts students must also take an advanced course in the same language or a course in a different language.

Boston University has similar requirements. Students at Boston University are required to take two semesters of academic reading, writing and research, up to a fourth semester level of foreign language and a mathematics course. Students also must complete a six-course set of breadth requirements in Humanities, Social Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science and Natural Sciences. They can opt instead to take a set of eight “Core” courses that provide a “strong intellectual foundation,” for students and result in an annotation on the graduate’s transcript, according to BU’s website.

The Digital Literacy requirement was designed so most students can fulfill it through their major requirements. The goal of the course is to have students acquire technology skills that may vary depending on the major. Digital literacy aims to incorporate the use digital media and software. Neither Boston College or Lasell College have a similar Digital Literacy requirement, despite having similar requirements in other areas like social science and history.

No schools compared in this article had a diversity in the U.S. or a Digital Literacy requirement.

Brandeis’ new Gen. Ed. curriculum still includes Physical Education (PE), but the PE requirement will now be placed into a broader category of health, wellness and life skills from which students must take three half-semester modules addressing topics such as financial literacy, team building and crisis management. Other schools compared do not have PE or Life Skill type requirements.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brown University does not have general education requirements. Instead, they have an “open curriculum,” which “challenges [students] to choose [their] own core” curriculum. The only requirements are to complete at least one major (or “concentration” at Brown) and take two writing-designated classes throughout your college career.

“Our open curriculum ensures you great freedom in directing the course of your education, but it also expects you to remain open to people, ideas, and experiences that may be entirely new,” their website reads.

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