Champlain College Shows How 4-Year General Education Prepares Graduates for Real World

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Posted By Eliana Osborn on June 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm
Champlain College Shows How 4-Year General Education Prepares Graduates for Real World

Required classes that are out of your major, general education has never been a favorite for college students. The concept of a basic level of knowledge on a wide range of topics is core to today’s version of higher education. GE courses are an opportunity to innovate and reach a large audience if only schools can figure out how.

UCLA defines general education as having four purposes:

“It is a program of study that (1) reveals to students the ways that research scholars in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences create and evaluate new knowledge, (2) introduces students to the important ideas and themes of human cultures, (3) fosters appreciation for the many perspectives and the diverse voices that may be heard in a democratic society, and (4) develops the intellectual skills that give students the dexterity they need to function in a rapidly changing world.”

Champlain College is taking a new approach to general education by taking an interdisciplinary approach over all four years of study. The school calls its system the Core with an emphasis on critical thinking and interdisciplinary study. Unlike most schools, Core is not something to hurry through during your first year. Rather, all four years of bachelor’s programs require Core participation.

Champlain acknowledges that their version of GE is unique. The first year focuses on thinking and writing; year two on the Western tradition or canon; year three is a global perspective; year four is a capstone experience of some kind. Many colleges have adopted one or more of these as emphases across their campus, trying to make the most difference with limited funds. To organize and require so much from all students is what sets Champlain apart.

On their website, Champlain explains why their Core is different than traditional GE sequences. “Typically, general education courses provide an introductory survey of an individual academic discipline (e.g. Introduction to Philosophy, Economics 101, Principles of Sociology). The courses are partially intended to attract students to a traditional academic major. Our Core courses involve several disciplines because we believe it is more important for professional students to learn how to approach real-world problems from a variety of perspectives and to be well-practiced in integrating knowledge.”

Eight fields are involved representing a wide swath of information that the school feels equates with a truly general body of knowledge. The hope for junior year students is that most will participate in study abroad, though it is not required. The focus of all years of Core is on inquiry, using primary sources and bringing today’s questions to bear on the texts.

Dr. Elizabeth Beaulieu, Dean of the Core Division, summarizes Champlain’s vision when she writes in her letter for students, “life is interdisciplinary.” “We’re not interested in what [students] can Google easily,” Beaulieu said in a recent Inside Higher Ed article. “They have to show they can be a creative and critical thinker. … Our graduates speak well, write well and know how to collaborate.”

The time and financial commitment of getting a college degree is such that students should graduate prepared for life and career—which most of the time isn’t nearly as cut and dried as straight subject matter classes would lead you to believe.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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