Writing in the Winter/Spring 2015 issue of Liberal Education, Carol Geary Schneider argues that,
"general education has become, for many students, a perplexing wasteland of disconnected courses taken across the liberal arts and sciences. Typically, almost all students are advised to get these requirements 'out of the way' as soon as possible. Neither the advisors giving such advice nor the students receiving it hold any expectation that students will actually use their broad learning for any purpose other than to fulfill institutional requirements for the degree" (p. 13). In the broader political, economic, and social context where liberal arts colleges face enrollment challenges amid mounting public discourse challenging the relevance of its curricula, with "efficiency-mindedness and chronic cost-cutting" the norm, "requirements without apparent purpose are poised to sound a death knell for multidisciplinary college education-that is, for liberal education" (Schneider, "The LEAP Challenge," 2015, p. 13).
Even if one is not convinced the consequences are this dire, there is a broad and emerging consensus in the literature that reform of general education is needed to better prepare students for their lives of work, personal fulfillment, and citizenship in the 21st Century. General education refers to that part of the curriculum shared by all students, typically grounded in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and the fine arts. At the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University (CSB/SJU), the general education program is known as the Common Curriculum, and it includes several "high impact practices," such as experiential learning, first-year seminars and upper division ethics courses. However, it is not designed to move students in a purposeful educational sequence; instead it is a series of distribution requirements that students (and sometimes advisors) feel they must "get out of the way."
The Joint Faculty Senate (JFS) created the Common Curriculum Visioning Committee (CCVC) and tasked it to provide direction and strategy for potentially implementing changes to the Common Curriculum. As it began its work, CCVC discovered that the national "battlefield of undergraduate education" was "strewn with the skeletons of well-meaning but unsuccessful reformers who attempted to stem the tide of specialization in defense of general education" (Newton 2000, p. 165). Undaunted, and encouraged by numerous colleagues who voiced support for revisions to the Common Curriculum, we spent over two years researching the national scholarship on general education reform and engaging in conversations with the campus community (see Appendix A for a list of CCVC Outreach Activities in 2014-2015), and now present the results of our research in this report.
While we find the Common Curriculum to have many strengths, we also believe this is an important opportunity to create an updated and distinctive general education curriculum that better meets the needs of our students and is more aligned with practices established in the literature. In this report, we make our case in three parts. In Part A, we describe the context for review of the Common Curriculum, identify process principles for general education reform, summarize feedback from the community, explain the strengths of the Common Curriculum as well as areas for improvement, and discuss the opportunities and imperative for change. In Part B, we begin with a discussion of a revised vision statement for general education, describe the principles to guide the design of a new curriculum, and discuss the "Essential Learning Outcomes" and how other colleges have revised their programs. In Part C, we discuss the role of faculty governance, propose a new charge for the task force, offer a timeline for general education reform with key checkpoints, and describe the characteristics of successful general education programs.