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College of Arts & Sciences Unveils New Academic Requirements

February 1, 2019
Beginning with the 2019-2020 academic year, students working toward any of the four undergraduate degrees certified by the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences will follow a set of common courses required of all undergraduates. Known as the core curriculum, these courses are considered necessary for the general education of students, irrespective of their choice in major. The new core is designed to impart a shared foundation of knowledge, essential skills and moral and intellectual virtues while providing increased academic flexibility and interdisciplinary learning.

The new Arts & Sciences core curriculum will apply to students seeking the Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Science in Aviation Sciences (BSAS) degrees. More than half of all Baylor undergraduates are now pursuing one of these four degrees.


A thorough evaluation

Baylor has a long legacy of excellence in its core curriculum. The University is one of only about two dozen academic institutions nationwide to routinely earn an “A” for the high quality of its core from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

“The high ranking that ACTA has given to Baylor’s core curriculum is in part due to the breadth of course offerings we require of our students in the sciences and liberal arts,” said Lee Nordt, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “But since change in our culture and our world is continual, we can’t simply rest on our laurels. We must periodically review our essential academic skillsets and core curriculum, with the goal of assessing what we teach, and why.”

In response to Pro Futuris, Baylor’s long-range strategic vision to “strengthen the undergraduate core curriculum and deepen our excellence in the liberal arts,” Nordt initiated a comprehensive review process of the core to reflect the renewed commitment to the undergraduate experience in the Illuminate Academic Strategic Plan.

The review process, which began in 2012, included the work of two task forces—one to outline a Vision document for the core under the leadership of Paul Martens, associate professor of religion and director of interdisciplinary programs for the College of Arts & Sciences, and the other comprised of 40-members led by Blake Burleson, senior lecturer in religion and associate dean for undergraduate studies, strategic and enrollment initiatives in the College of Arts & Sciences, to determine the size and content of the new core based on the vision and to make recommendations to faculty in all 25 departments in the college.

“In the pursuit of developing a Transformational Undergraduate Education, the review process was intentionally crafted to provide a thorough look at the experience of our students, and how a change in the core could enhance the impact of their time at Baylor. By partnering with faculty and students in the review, the new core requirements provide a strong liberal education foundation that reflects the atmosphere of inclusivity that we look to provide our undergraduate students as they prepare to serve and lead in a diverse and interconnected global society,” Nordt said.

During the past year, 18 committees totaling more than 180 members, including 22 student members, were tasked with implementing the new core. Before the start of the Fall 2018 semester, Nordt appointed Lauren Poor, lecturer in history, as the first director of the Core, to provide leadership over implementing the new course requirements.


Course requirements

When the new Arts & Sciences core curriculum takes effect this coming fall, it will be the first time Baylor has offered a unified core—meaning that students pursuing each of the four degrees will have the same core requirements.

Students will be required to complete 15 hours in seven common courses:

• Chapel
• Christian Heritage
• Christian Scriptures
• Cultural Events Experience (CEE)
• The U.S. Constitution, Its Interpretation and the American Political Experience
• The United States in Global Perspective
• American Literary Cultures.

“The common courses will provide students with a foundation of shared religious and civic knowledge and the opportunity to develop essential skills that Baylor has identified as central to the mission of the University of preparing students for a future in worldwide leadership and service through our Christian commitment,” Poor said.

The CEE common course requires students to attend two approved cultural events on campus during each of six semesters. These events include art and museum exhibits, theater productions, concerts, poetry readings and other cultural events.

“The purpose of requiring the CEE is to allow for maturation and growth in our students’ reception, interpretation and appreciation for fine arts and cultural events,” Poor said.

The remaining 35 hours of the core will be fulfilled in distribution list courses—where students must choose at least one course each from nine different areas:

• Communication and Media Literacy
• Contemporary Social Issues
• Fine Arts
• Foreign Language and Culture
• Formal Reasoning
• Literature in Context
• Research Writing
• Scientific Method I and II
• Lifetime Fitness

The new core will be required for freshmen and transfer students starting in the Fall 2019 semester.


Distinct advantages

The changes to the core curriculum provide many advantages. The expansion of required common courses from five to seven will allow students to have more vocabularies, texts and experiences in common with their classmates. The new core also has multidisciplinary courses and upper-level courses that are rarely available in the current core.

“Our new core curriculum is better because it is now more intentional in its course offerings and how the courses are sequenced and interconnected,” Nordt said. “It will be more impactful than before.”

Students also will have more flexibility in course selection for their general education requirements and in their elective areas. For example, the current requirements for the BA and BS degrees call for between 65 to 79 hours of general education, comprising one of the largest core requirements in the United States. By contrast, the new unified core requires 50 hours, giving students approximately 20 to 30 more hours to take additional electives or pursue second majors, minors or certificates.


A broadening focus

While the unified core will apply to all Baylor undergraduates within the College of Arts & Sciences, other Baylor academic units have begun mapping on to the new core to varying degrees.

“These units are interested in the flexibility the new core provides for students to pursue double majors, minors and even certificates, as well as the unified nature around which the courses and experiences were intentionally chosen to best reflect Baylor’s greater mission,” Poor said.

For more information on the Arts & Sciences core, including a complete list of courses, visit baylor.edu/artsandsciences/core.

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