Many seniors who want to go to a four-year college have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last year thinking about schools and wading through the glossy brochures that arrive in the mail each day. While cost, location, and admission rates are all key factors in choosing a school, students are also looking at whether a school has core requirements or an open curriculum.
At Berkeley High School students are all familiar with the set of foundational classes, such as math, science, English, history, and foreign languages. These are all required for students to graduate. Based on a student’s learning community, the requirements may be so stringent that they barely have the chance to take elective classes.
Core requirements are something students need to fulfill, and rarely are they anything to get excited about. That might be accepted in high school, but why should college be a place where you’re slogging through courses just to tick the boxes and mark time until you can take the classes you’re really interested in?
Most colleges and universities have a curriculum with some form of core requirements, but a handful of schools offer a different path known as open curriculum. Maybe the most well-known institution with an open curriculum is Brown University, which did away with core requirements in 1969 after a campaign by student activists. Brown’s action was followed by a few other liberal arts colleges like Amherst, Wesleyan, Vassar, Smith, and Grinnell all following suit.
The appeal of an open curriculum is obvious. Students have the freedom to study what they want, become deeply engaged with a topic, and explore it widely. Essentially, they are responsible for their own education.
The downside of an open curriculum is that it puts the burden of creating an educational program on the student instead of the institution. Students who are in their late teens or early 20s may not be in the best position to understand what their future interests might be. Of course, many students are attracted to an open curriculum not because they’re attracted to a particular field, but rather because they want to be sure to avoid subjects they dislike after being exposed to them in high school.
Students are already exposed to a spectrum of subjects. After that, it should be up to them to decide what appeals to them. Students shouldn’t be restricted to further years of core curriculum after high school when they could be studying their chosen academic area for their full college career. College is most students’ first introduction to independence, and they should have the same opportunity in their education.