Getting to the core of the ‘Core’

Taryn Beaufort | Opinion Editor | The USD Vista

University of San Diego students are no strangers to core-curriculum classes, but the question of what the core curriculum does for a student’s education still remains. Students often wonder what they are supposed to take away from the variety of courses they are required to take.

Almost every college in the nation has their own version of the core curriculum. This set of common courses is considered the necessary general education for students, regardless of their majors.

Junior Andie Zaharias-Kern appreciates what the core curriculum attempts to bring to her education, but pointed out some flaws it may have.

“I think it has definitely offered a lot of positives,” Zaharias-Kern said. “But at the same time, it has limited my ability to focus on my classes in my major and minor, as well as prohibited me from doing other things outside of school.”

When Zaharias-Kern registered for her core classes, she had the expectation that they would not be very time-consuming.

“These courses tend to be my most difficult and end up being my lowest grades,” Zaharias-Kern said. “They end up significantly bringing down my GPA. I spend way more time studying for my core classes than for the courses for my major or minor.”

As a transfer student, Zaharias-Kern has had the opportunity to experience different core curriculums and compare the pros and cons of each.

“At my old university, our core was much more well-balanced,” Zaharias-Kern said. “The classes were interesting, but did not require hours and hours of studying. The classes gave me enough information to learn something, but not too much information where it became overwhelming.”

USD’s unique core curriculum poses a problem for transfer students like Zaharias-Kern. The university requires additional courses that may not be as common at other schools. As a Catholic university, students are expected to take a minimum of two theological and religious inquiry classes. However, the old core used to require three. Most universities don’t mandate their students to take religion courses, unless the university is religiously affiliated.

This fall, USD implemented a new core curriculum that would be effective for all students admitted for Fall 2017. However, students who had already completed one or more semesters of the old core had the option to decide, which core [the old or new] they would like to finish.

Professor Kristin Moran, the previous Core Director, shared USD’s decision to move away from the old curriculum.

“There were multiple factors that led to USD updating the core-curriculum requirements, but the primary reason is that we wanted to improve the student experience and improve student learning,” Moran said. “One of the main differences between the old and new core is that the new core is purposefully designed to ensure that students can meet specific learning outcomes across the core curriculum.”

The new core curriculum is designed to be more developmental.

“We have experiences in the first year that are then enhanced at a later point,” Moran said. “For example, we have integrative learning as an outcome and students are introduced to integrative learning in their first year and then have a more advanced experience before they graduate.”

Sophomore Sonia Steen entered USD with the intent to complete the “old core,” but has since switched to the “new core.”

“After comparing the two with my advisor, it seemed that the new core would work best with the classes I have taken and am planning to take in the future,” Steen said. “We looked at which courses in my major and minor fulfilled requirements in each core. It ended up being that if I switched to the new core, I would probably have to take a class or two less.”

With the new core curriculum, the logic component has been completely taken out and the requirement for theological and religious inquiry has been reduced from nine units to six units.

Although Steen has benefited from the switch to the new core curriculum, she still believed that there is room for improvement.

“I think it might be beneficial to widen the variety of courses that can be taken to qualify for core requirements,” Steen said. “Right now we are limited to a select number of courses that could be used for the core curriculum. We don’t have many choices and if we do they are still closely related to one another.”

As the current Core Director,  Professor Bethany O’Shea was able to lend some input as to why USD’s core curriculum is an integral part of a student’s education.

“It’s a chance to explore topics through different lenses and develop your own appreciation of the world around you,” O’Shea said. “I encourage you to think of the core not simply as a graduation requirement or a checklist of courses, but rather as knowledge and competencies you have the opportunity to gain that are grounded in our Catholic intellectual tradition.”

First-year Michael Casinelli believed that USD’s core curriculum provides an easy transition from high school to a college-paced education.

“‘My experience with the core requirement is the fact that it just reminds me of a harder version of high school,” Casinelli said.

Casinelli believed that it is a good thing that each school has a different core curriculum, since the core curriculum is what sets each university apart from one another.

“I do not think all schools should have the same core curriculum because that is what makes USD a school people should want to go to,” Cassienlli said. “We have an almost pre-set first two years of college to complete rather than trying to figure out what classes to take and if it’ll make that person on the right track for their major.”

For those worried about core classes taking up too much time, Cassinelli proposed a change in the structure of the core.

“In my opinion, the school should adjust the core curriculum,” Cassinelli said. “So incoming students are required to take their religious classes the first two semesters and have more space for major-based courses that’ll benefit their future.”

To some students, the core curriculum may appear as just another thing to cross off their checklist on their way to graduation, or something that takes up too much of their already busy schedules. While the university aims to expose students to a new way of thinking through these courses, it may be doing just the opposite.