Alternate liberal learning options widely unknown

Students often labor over program planners, trying to figure out which courses fill the dreaded breadth requirements of the College’s liberal learning program. Is a course considered arts, quantitative reasoning, history or none of the above?

However, according to Robert Anderson, director of General Education, not all students realize the interdisciplinary concentrations and self-designed concentration options available to them in their quest to fulfill the College’s requirements.

According to the liberal learning Web site, all students need to demonstrate ability in “broad sectors of human inquiry.” The three broad sectors are arts and humanities, social sciences and natural science and quantitative reasoning.

This requirement can be satisfied in three different ways.

The one most students are familiar with is Option C, the breadth distribution, in which a student takes three courses in each of the three broad areas and at least one course from each sub-area.

For example, a student is required to take three courses in natural science and quantitative reasoning. Within that area, the student needs to take one of each and can choose an additional natural science or quantitative reasoning course for the third.

According to Anderson, while this system of fulfilling the various requirements has become the norm, it wasn’t meant to be that way.

“Option C was supposed to be just that,” Anderson said. “A third choice.”

Instead, Anderson said, the program was envisioned with stu dents choosing options A and B.

Option A is to select a preapproved interdisciplinary option, while Option B allows a student to design his or her own interdisciplinary option with faculty sponsorship.

Though there are now 14 preapproved interdisciplinary options ranging from Africana world studies to health communication, Anderson admitted that in the liberal learning program’s enthusiasm to roll out a new program, it failed to approve Option A programs in time for incoming students.Though programs are available now, students and faculty advisors are used to planning classes around Option C.

The Option A programs tend to be shorter than the distribution requirements, ranging from six to eight courses.

They are more intensive than a minor and less so than a major, Anderson said, and do appear on a student’s transcript, like a minor does.

Richard Kamber, coordinator of Interdisciplinary Options, encouraged students to consider their options rather than immediately choosing Option C.

“You’ve got a fairly sizable requirement,” he said. “Think about the way that is right for you.”

Choosing an interdisciplinary option has many benefits, Anderson said.

“If there’s a coherence (to the liberal learning), it’s more effective, more meaningful,” he said. “Fewer courses more coherently arranged are more valuable.”

Kamber said that the concentrations give students a “credential” that they can take into the job market. They will have noted expertise in their concentration rather than a random collection of courses that fulfilled various requirements across several fields.

S. Lee Whitesell, Student Government Association (SGA) vice president for Academic Affairs, said the strength of the options was their diversity.

“The interdisciplinary options are a step away from the orthodox ‘take this set of courses and you will be well-rounded’ approach,” Whitesell said. “The options encourage students to take ownership of their academic careers, allow for flexibility within any program and allow the College’s blossoming scholars to diversify their academic pursuits.”

However, the interdisciplinary concentrations aren’t for all students or all majors. Because some majors require specific liberal learning classes, an interdisciplinary option might not fit the needs of some very rigid programs like nursing and education.

“This won’t work equally well for every major on campus,” Kamber said.

Anderson and Kamber agreed that the interdisciplinary options had not been well-advertised or mentioned enough by faculty advisors.

But the faculty of the liberal learning program hopes that the concentrations appeal to incoming freshmen, even while admitting that current students will mostly be left completing Option C.

“It’s just about too late for the people already here,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he was working with the office of Records and Registration to make the concentration options more visible on students’ program planners. SGA, too, is working to get the word out.

“We are trying to encourage people to take advantage of the options by spreading the word,” Whitesell said. “I think the options sell themselves. People just have to be aware of their existence.”

By the end of the year, Kamber said, there should be three additional approved concentrations, raising the total number to 17. Students interested in creating an Option B self-designed concentration are encouraged to contact him at to discuss the process.