The KU Core has been described as the most major adjustment in Kansas University’s undergraduate curriculum in as much as 50 years.
That indicates it probably was time for a significant overhaul, and the new curriculum appears to have some significant advantages for entering freshmen. As with all major changes, however, there is a danger that some significant elements of a traditional liberal education may be lost.
One of the main advantages for students is the added flexibility they will have in meeting graduation requirements. The hope is that the curriculum will raise the university’s retention rate and allow more students to graduate in four years. That is good news for families who are paying tuition as well as addressing a concern of higher education organizations, including the American Association of Universities.
The curriculum also is designed to allow students to be “in the driver’s seat” when it comes to meeting graduation requirements. They will have more opportunity to choose courses that interest them instead of simply checking required courses off a list. For instance, a student seeking a Bachelor of Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences would need only 56 general education credits, compared to the previous 72 credits. Some credits also could be earned through internships, study abroad or a service-learning project.
One KU advising official described the new curriculum as the difference between students focusing on “What do we have to do?” and students having the opportunity to focus on “What do we get to learn about?”
It’s great for students to be excited about the courses they are taking, but there’s also value in courses on subjects they may not be — or may not know they are — interested in. One change that has drawn considerable attention is the elimination of a Western Civilization course requirement at KU. The class, which had been required for decades at KU for liberal arts and other degrees, may not be a student favorite, but it offered valuable cultural, philosophical and political insights that are an important part of higher education.
Some of those required courses may have value later that students didn’t expect when they were building their curriculum. Having the discipline to learn about something that doesn’t particularly interest them, also could be an important skill for students to carry into the workforce.
As university officials have noted, careful advising will be a key to the success of the KU Core to make sure that students are graduating with the knowledge and skills they need and that a KU degree will continue to hold its value in the academic world.
Times change, and the nature of higher education needs to change with them. Students choosing fun, popular, even easy, classes at KU is nothing new, but university leaders also need to make sure students are challenged to learn outside their comfort zone.