Baylor Only University To Earn An 'A' On Core Course Requirements

June 30, 2004

by Jackie Inouye


Listen to Paul Harvey's comments about the ACTA "Hollow Core" study on BaylorTV.com.

Baylor's commitment to provide an academically sound and integrated education has placed the school at the top of its class. According to a study on general education requirements conducted in April by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Baylor is the only school that meets the highest criteria.

ACTA, based in Washington, D.C., was founded by educational and social leaders in 1995 out of concern for the quality of education at American universities. Supporting policies that encourage academic freedom, strong curricula and accountability, the non-profit institution recently released results of a study called "The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum." The premise states that most colleges and universities tout the importance of requiring strong core courses, but many of them fall short of this goal. By drawing attention to these shortcomings, the organization hopes to improve school programs.

Fifty schools in the Big 12, Big Ten, Ivy League, Seven Sisters and a collection of 13 other institutions of higher learning were examined and graded on a scale of "A" to "F" according to the quality of their general education curricula. Only Baylor received an "A," requiring six of the seven ACTA-recommended core courses.

"In part, this commitment relates to the belief that the core curriculum teaches students how to learn, to raise ultimate questions anew, to explore questions that have no single answers and to provide a broad picture of the world," said Dr. Wallace L. Daniel, dean of Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences. "This perspective in undergraduate education, therefore, is opposed to narrow specialization, to breaking the world into separate parts and viewing them as isolated. Some of these trends in higher education undermine the life of the mind."

By drawing rigid disciplinary boundaries and by raising questions only within the boundaries of those disciplines, Daniel said it becomes difficult to see the interconnectedness and the wholeness of all of life.

"We fall victim to what Jose Ortega y Gassett labeled in his Revolt of the Masses the 'barbarism of specialization,'" Daniel added.

According to ACTA, effective core curricula include college-level mathematics, excluding basic math literacy or logic classes, and writing composition, discounting courses taught by instructors who are not part of English or writing-related departments or those that teach writing "for" a certain discipline.

Core courses should also include U.S. history and government, not specific to an era or single issue, and a literature course that surveys a number of significant works by established authors. Intermediate foreign language competence should be demonstrated by more than one year of college-level instruction or three years of high school classes or by passing a commensurate exam. A general economics course taught by the business or economics department faculty and classes in the hard sciences such as chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy or physics must also be taken, according to the ACTA requirements.

Out of the 50 institutions studied, only Baylor required all but one of the recommended courses -- economics. Fourteen "B" institutions required four or five, and 11 schools scored "C" for requiring three courses. There were 12 schools that scored "D" -- requiring two classes and an equal number scored "F" -- one to zero classes. Forty-eight percent of schools surveyed earned "D" or "F" and only 30 percent earned "A" or "B."

Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, provost emeritus and The Hazel and Harry Chavanne Professor of Christian Ethics in Business, worked on creating Baylor's general education requirements during his 12 years as provost.

"A general education ought to reflect what an institution believes in, and if you don't believe in anything, you just let everybody pick and choose according to their interests," he said, referring to other institutions. "But if you believe that all students ought to know something to be an 'educated person,' then there are things that all students ought to take. If you are a Christian institution, that's all the more reason to have certain ideas of an education that ought to be the common experience of all your students."

While always having some elements of a core curriculum, Baylor's first serious foray into creating strong foundational curricula in recent years was the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, a part of the Honors College that was formed in 1995, Schmeltekopf said. Subsequently, an intense effort was made to strengthen the core curricula required of all students, culminating in a more comprehensive program that was fully in place by the 2002-2003 academic year. The requisite classes include at least six hours of writing composition, nine hours of literature, at least three hours each of foreign language, political science and mathematics, at least six hours each of science and Christian religion classes and two hours of physical education instruction.

In addition to taking the core courses, all students must attend two semesters of chapel -- a requirement that is based on Baylor's Christian mission. The campus' new Living-Learning Centers -- where students of the same major or interest live in a residence hall with an in-house faculty adviser -- are another step Baylor has taken to promote a common intellectual experience for students. The centers are available for students majoring in engineering and computer science (North Village), those in the Honors College (Alexander/Memorial) and those interested in leadership (Martin/South Russell).

Schmeltekopf said that while most institutions take a relativistic approach to what is important to learn, Baylor believes in the centrality of understanding Western civilization and the world from the perspective of the Christian faith.

"John Henry Newman, the great English philosopher and religious thinker said, 'There are three areas of knowledge: man, nature and God,' and that's what we should be studying ... in a connected fashion," Schmeltekopf said.

Academic skills are important, he added, but an educated person also knows about the world and can engage it and become an independent learner.

More information on the "Hollow Core" study is available on ACTA's web site at www.goacta.org. For more information about Baylor's core curriculum, contact Dr. Wallace L. Daniel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at (254) 710-3361, or visit the College of Arts and Sciences.

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