New General Education Program for Undergraduate Education Unveiled

April 03, 2013

Saint Leo University is phasing in an exciting new general education program for all undergraduates, beginning in the fall semester. The program name, University Explorations, is accompanied by the tagline “Because you’re more than your major.” The courses developed for the program will allow students to delve deeply into topics such as Native American history or global warming, and develop interests they may not even have realized they had. At the same time, they will continue to receive a quality liberal arts education that will support them no matter what their major, and no matter where they study. The program will be taught at University Campus, at Education Centers, and through the Center for Online Learning.

Keep reading to learn the answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Question: What do you mean by the term “general education” program?

Answer: All students receiving bachelor’s and associate degrees from Saint Leo–and from other liberal-arts-based colleges and universities across the country¬–take courses that will help them learn to read, write, and communicate effectively, to calculate and analyze competently, to think creatively, to solve problems, to act ethically, to appreciate beauty, and to develop a capacity for reflection. These are the skills that equip our students to become thoughtful citizens of the world, and we want all of our graduates to possess these capabilities, no matter what their major. So we have a required general education program to ensure that our graduates have developed this intellectual and ethical core to enrich their lives and careers. As it happens, many times students will come into college thinking they want one major or minor, and find through their general education program that they belong in another course of study. We say, enjoy the exploration.

Question: Why do we need a new general education program?

Answer: Saint Leo students have been well-served by our previous program. It has not only given students the academic skills required for deeper college study in their major fields, but it has taught them how to think about the world from multiple perspectives, so they can consider both the historical and psychological elements of world events, for instance, or the political and social impact of policies, or the scientific and ethical dimensions of new discoveries or lines of inquiry.

The new program updates our approach for the 21st century. We will still require students to complete foundational courses in Academic Writing, College Math, and Basic Computer Skills. And they will still have to select a required number of courses from our 100-level and 200-level offerings of three-credit courses. But those courses are now more topically oriented, and they take students deeper into a particular area of study, rather taking a broad overview. We think today’s students–no matter what age–will find the topical approach dynamic and relevant.

For instance, instead of our Global Perspective course that surveys important issues since World War II, students might enroll in our new course, Revolution Now! Democracy in Troubled Times. This will transport students to a number of countries at critical junctures, always through the lens of the challenges of democracy. The way scholars approach the topic will come to life, so that we are actually bringing the discipline to the student. We anticipate that students will remember more of the content of these courses for a longer period of time, and enjoy the courses more.

Question: What are other examples or possibilities?

Answer: Democracy in Troubled Times falls under the course cluster we call The Human Adventure. Students choose two courses from that group. Other options are a course in Economics for Life, Psychological Well Being, or the McDonaldization of Society, which is about big global trends economically and socially, and how individuals and consumers can respond.

There is also the Reflective and Spiritual Life cluster, with nine credits required, including three from philosophy, where the options are Encountering the Real: Faith and Philosophical Inquiry or Thinking and Doing Ethics. Religion courses include: the Emergence of Christianity–Examination of Foundational Christian Texts; Many are Called, But Who is Chosen? Christian Understanding of Salvation; Christian Spiritual Vision; and World Religions: East and West.

The Science in a Changing World cluster requires two courses from these selections: Evaluating the Predictions of Global Warming; Is Evolution True? Your Inner Fish (also a book title); Energy and Its Impact on Global Society; and Science in Science Fiction.

Students have to choose one course from The Human Mosaic. The offerings are: Curves Ahead: Women Artists and the Female Form; Native American History and Life: More than Teepees and Tomahawks; Television and the American Family: Your Shows, My Shows; Once Upon a Time: Readings in Folklore and Culture; and Building a Multiracial Society.

The Creative Life cluster exposes students to the arts, and requires two courses. Students select from: Living the Theatre: Dramatic Skills for All Disciplines; Giants of the Arts; Spiritual to Rock and Roll: The Story of How American Popular Music Conquered the World; Love and Desire in Literature; Monsters and the Monstrous in Literature; On the Proverbial Road: Journeys of Transformation in Narrative; Writing Wild: Exploring the Four Genres.

All these courses, and the requirements or electives they replace, are charted.

Question: Will students lose something in this new system?

Answer: We think students will understand more deeply the relevance of liberal arts and sciences to their lives. And because students are apt to be more engaged, we think they will have an even better opportunity to strengthen their critical thinking skills, which fits with our university-wide approach to learning, A Model for a Challenging World: Critical Thinking + Core Values = Decision Making.

It is also important to remember that no college program will ever be able to cover all that students will need for life, especially in such a time of rapid change and constant discoveries. Our goal is for students to emerge as lifelong learners with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills, along with some of the cultural competence, that will best prepare them for responsible leadership.

Question: Are other colleges doing this?

Answer: Many top colleges, such as Harvard and Princeton universities, and the University of Maryland, have incorporated such programs, adapted to their own academic environments. It is vital to review continually the curriculum, particularly the common learning in the general education program that provides the foundation for students’ study, and that informs and deepens their learning overall. It is a true accomplishment on the part of Saint Leo faculty that they have been able to develop and introduce this program within two years.

Question: When does this actually start? Are all students affected?

Answer: The new courses will be offered starting Fall (Fall 1), and will be in effect at University Campus, at Saint Leo Education Centers, and through the Center for Online Learning.

Students who already have attained junior or senior status and completed the general education requirements in effect previously may just continue with their studies in their majors and electives. Students who are moving into their sophomore years will pick their next courses from the new offerings–that means as they register, they will see new courses. Faculty and academic advisors are getting all the information they need to help students make their schedules, complete their requirements, and in many cases, choose electives. Freshmen will be starting their degree programs with University Explorations–what a great experience they will have.

Question: Are you sure the courses I have already taken at Saint Leo will still count?

Answer: Absolutely. These two general education programs will flow from one to the other, seamlessly.

Question: What if a student wants to take one of these new courses as an elective – especially a student who is a junior or senior?

Answer: The best approach is for a student to work individually with his or her advisor to make sure the course will satisfy the elective requirements for the student’s degree programs. These are 100- and 200-level courses, so that is important to keep in mind.

Question: Is there anything else we should know?

Answer: Please keep in mind that the overall credit hour requirement in University Explorations is 42 credit hours–about one-third of the time investment in our degree programs. That is typical for a college general education program, and that is why we say: “Because you’re more than your major.”