Today I came across an Inside Higher Ed article written by Arthur Garson and Robert Pianta that caught my eye. Read the full article here. In this article, Garson and Pianta explored college’s requirement of students to take “core curriculum,” or as we call them here at Virginia Tech Curriculum for Liberal Education or CLE, courses. The authors argue that these common core courses are arbitrarily selected, and are an expensive waste of time for students. They suggest that a more effective alternative would be to have “a group of successful people from across the country, from all walks of life, led by evidence-based educators” create a new list of subjects that anyone considered “educated” should know, and implement this new list of prerequisites at all universities. They say that colleges should then experiment with these courses to determine how they impact student outcomes to decide which courses should remain a part of this core curriculum.

Their second suggestion was that these core curriculum courses should be online courses, saying that “students’ on-campus time is better spend on other endeavors and it’s inefficient for every university in the country to design and teach the same core courses. They say it would make more sense to create “a marketplace of online courses” that can be used by all universities.

I think these authors have made an important point. I was lucky to come into Virginia Tech with a large portion of my CLE courses already completed. Already having these courses completed meant that I was able to finish my undergraduate degree in only three years, which saved me thousands of dollars. The authors mention that these online courses could be available for high school students to take before coming to college, and I think this is a great idea, especially for students who attend high schools that offer few college level courses. My high school offered very few AP or Dual Enrollment courses (only two I think). I was lucky enough to be accepted into a Governor’s school, where I was able to earn the college credits I mentioned earlier. The authors did not say whether these online courses would come at a lower cost than other courses, but since they would require no professor, I would assume that they would.

The authors speak pretty harshly about common core courses, and although I think they make a few valid points, I do not see all of these courses as worthless, and I do not think that all of them should be taught online. Some students simply do not learn well online. Virginia Tech’s online format for math classes would have been a nightmare for me if I hadn’t already completed all of my required math courses. I think it is important that courses also offer these core courses in an in-class format for students who don’t do well with online classes (maybe just less frequently).

I am interested to hear what your thoughts are on the common core courses and some of the suggestions that the authors have offered.