Curriculum Corner: The Liberal Arts

Curriculum Corner: The Liberal Arts

by Steve Griffith

Since the founding of Harvard College in 1636, there has been a debate in higher education in the U.S. about what constitutes a liberal arts education.

For many people a liberal arts education has come to mean a college experience that includes exposing students to a wide variety of academic disciplines. In this model, students are required to take a number of courses in many disciplines. These required courses constitute what is called the college’s general education program.

You can probably recognize our current Cornerstone Program as an example of this approach to liberal arts education. The new Engaged Citizenship Curriculum (ECC), which will begin next fall, uses a different approach.

In the ECC, the required courses create a base of understanding and build skills in to help students succeed as engaged citizens once they graduate. Students will take courses in seven engagement areas and also work on seven different skills.

The areas and the skills don’t line-up directly with academic disciplines. For each area and skill there are characteristics and learning objectives that must be met in order for a course to be designated as part of the ECC. Simpson students will never again have to ask why a particular course is required.

All of the ECC requirements can be found at:

Any department can propose to have its courses approved for a designation. This means that students will likely be getting ECC credit for courses taken within their majors.

This opportunity (being able to achieve ECC designations at the same time as taking major courses) has caused some students and faculty to worry that Simpson graduates will not achieve the breadth of knowledge expected in a liberal arts education.

The faculty considered this issue before approving the ECC and decided that although it might be possible for a student to take only courses within her major or within the division of her major, it is very unlikely that this would happen.

Instead of just requiring courses from a checklist, the ECC is designed to make learning deeper in courses students are interested in.