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A New Curriculum for the College Class of 2010

The Faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences adopted a new general education curriculum for the College at its regular meeting on April 19, 2005. The curriculum and corresponding degree requirements will be in place for students in the class of 2010, which matriculates in the fall of 2006.  Presented by the SAS Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), the curriculum was developed via a consultative process that has obtained input from hundreds of faculty members, students, alumni and others. It draws upon lessons learned from our experience over the past 20 years with the General Requirement as well as from the pilot curriculum controlled experiment.

Outstanding students from the United States and around the world come to the College to study with faculty who have achieved preeminence in their disciplines. A primary mission of the Faculty of SAS is to provide these students with an undergraduate education in the arts and sciences that is second to none. At Penn, the College is surrounded by schools that provide postgraduate professional training and by undergraduate schools that emphasize training for specific vocations. In this environment, the faculty of SAS reaffirms its belief in and commitment to a thorough education in the arts and sciences. We expect our graduates to be broadly-educated people who have acquired the knowledge, skills and inclination that will enable them to embark on a lifetime of learning; to assume positions of leadership in their chosen careers; to be independent, creative thinkers; to be able to adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances; and to become thoughtful, engaged citizens of their community, nation and world.

Within the framework of this broad arts and sciences education, our students should develop a deep understanding of one discipline. It is in this spirit that the College curriculum has required, and shall continue to require, each of its students to pursue a major as well as to fulfill a set of general education requirements. The purpose of the major is clear: it provides an intellectual “home base,” and a perspective from which to understand, criticize, engage with and improve the world. But in order to do so constructively, our students must also appreciate the importance and relevance of fields in which they have not developed particular expertise. Helping students to develop this appreciation is one of the primary goals of our general education requirements.

The new general education curriculum will be more flexible and simpler to navigate, while placing new emphases on understanding and comparing different cultures and on modern and rigorous science education for non-science majors. It will emphasize the integration of knowledge across disciplines common to the successful courses in the pilot curriculum and encourage undergraduate research and civic engagement. Finally, the set of courses that students can take to fulfill the general education requirements should be well-defined, and the courses should be reviewed periodically to ensure that they continue to address the goals of general education in the College.

We believe that the requirements will provide focus so that students can make reasonable choices, especially in areas where there are many departments and choices. Similarly, the requirements should highlight areas and courses that large numbers of College students might otherwise neglect or avoid.

The structure we devised to realize these goals requires students to take seven courses in seven sectors. Five of the sectors (Society, History & Tradition, Arts & Letters, Living World and Physical World) are familiar from the current general requirement. The other two (Humanities & Social Sciences and Natural Science & Mathematics) are meant to be interdisciplinary, and can be satisfied by pilot-type interdisciplinary courses, other courses specific to these sectors, or by additional courses from the first five sectors.

New College Curriculum Structure

Additionally, several requirements emphasize skills and approaches to knowledge: the writing, quantitative data analysis and foreign language requirements we are already familiar with, and two requirements that are new to this side: a formal reasoning and analysis requirement and a global cultural analysis requirement. CUE will work next fall to sharpen the definitions of the sectors and of the new global cultural analysis requirement.

Because we believe that general education is too important to be “outsourced” to high schools, general education requirements—with the exception of the language requirement—will no longer be satisfied with advanced placement credit.  Another change from the current curriculum concerns the rule for double-counting sector courses in students’ majors: a student is allowed to double-count only one of the seven sector courses in the major. The restriction on double-counting is intended to encourage the pursuit of breadth, although it is felt that prohibiting double-counting altogether would disadvantage students who pursue a major as a result of a course taken initially to fulfill a sector requirement.

The second part of this new curriculum concerns the process for admitting and reviewing courses in the various sectors. CUE has constructed preliminary provisional lists of courses for the sectors by starting with the General Requirement and Pilot Curriculum lists, reassigning some courses to different sectors, and eliminating courses that have not enrolled an average of at least ten students per year over the last four years. The intention is for a new sector requirement committee to begin the review process next year, so that some of the courses on the provisional lists can be reviewed and other courses can be added, even before the curriculum takes effect.  Each year thereafter the committee will review about one-fifth of the courses in the sectors. The objective is to have each course reevaluated once every five years in order to maintain a shared understanding among the faculty teaching in the sectors and those serving on the sector requirement committee of the criteria for general education courses in the various sectors.

—Dennis DeTurck, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 32, May 10, 2005


May 10, 2005
Volume 51 Number 32


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