The Corner


The Unfulfilling Smorgasbord of Courses at Many Colleges

(Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Most colleges and universities used to have a core curriculum that required students to take serious courses in an array of disciplines. Sadly, that concept has been fading away for many years. At many schools, students get to pick pretty much anything they like from a huge assortment of courses.

In today’s Martin Center article, Christian Barnard (a writer with Reason Foundation) focuses on that problem. After noting that employers are generally not impressed with the abilities of college grads, he writes:

While it’s tempting to blame poor preparation on liberal arts degrees, it would also be wrong. The labor market isn’t just starved for engineers, computer scientists, and skilled manufacturers—employers also want graduates with a strong arsenal of soft skills. The fact that many graduates still lack these core skills demonstrates how the explosion of degree options and the popularity of easy majors at many universities has actually damaged their core liberal arts programs.

Barnard uses the research done by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to show that among schools in North Carolina, most get poor grades for having a curriculum that requires students to take foundational courses in seven basic areas.

Rigorous courses in key disciplines are still available, but students can get their course credits needed for graduation by taking a bunch of easy courses. For example:

At Appalachian State University, which receives a D from ACTA, students get ambushed by a dizzying array of options. From an anthropology course devoted solely to the understanding of ‘magical worlds’ to a photography course on wedding and portrait photography, along with the usual long list of courses on gender, sexuality, class, and privilege, the wealth of options has crowded out the most basic—and often the most valuable—courses.

Most students, focused on getting their degrees with as much fun and as little work as possible, see this curricular smorgasbord not as a problem, but a cook perk.

Barnard concludes:

It’s time for the North Carolina institutions with the costliest tuition rates and the highest prestige to take the helm in redeeming the liberal arts. By cutting the curricular fluff and only awarding degrees to students who are truly equipped with the hard and soft skills they need to succeed, the state’s colleges can prove to be actually worth the cost.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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