The Collegian
Thursday, September 21, 2023

OPINION: Are general education requirements essential to a liberal arts education?

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

The University of Richmond has general education requirements in six fields of study as well as in communications studies in order to align with the ideals of a liberal arts education. But are general education requirements necessary to an education in the liberal arts?

According to the New Spiders website, an education in the liberal arts is an essential component to producing and maintaining a well informed and successful population. The website also states the goals of a liberal arts education: “[T]o teach critical reasoning, to encourage innovation and creativity, to demonstrate and encourage clear communication, to advocate independent thinking that moves toward solutions.” 

UR students must take at least one course in each field of study in order to graduate. These fields of study are historical studies, literary studies, natural science, social analysis, symbolic reasoning and visual and performing arts. There is also an additional requirement in communication studies, which is foreign language study. The general education curriculum webpage of the UR website explains how general education requirements connect with UR’s liberal arts mission:

“A liberal arts education is typically characterized by the development of broad intellectual and cultural interests and by the achievement of a significant body of skills and knowledge" the website reads. 

"It is the particular responsibility of a general education curriculum to address the first of these goals-the broadening of students' interests-while also laying the foundation for the acquisition of advanced skills and deeper knowledge within optional areas of concentration, normally defined as majors.” 

The website describes general education requirements as a responsibility to the values of a liberal arts education. But I believe that general education requirements limit students' ability to explore their interests and broaden their skills in the traditional liberal arts fashion. 

According to the New Spiders website, some of the goals of an undergraduate education at UR are to encourage creativity and independent thinking. In my opinion, students should be able to design their own curriculum aside from major and minor requirements. 

An open curriculum with no general education requirements would allow students to pursue their current interests as well as provide them with the time in their schedules to take classes that sound interesting to them. 

Since I am planning on double majoring and I have to fulfill the seven general education requirements, I have very limited opportunities to take classes that I find intriguing. An open curriculum would preserve the ideals of a liberal arts education while also fostering the growth of each student personally in allowing them to discover new passions as well as fields of study that do not interest them. 

Additionally, in traditional middle and high school curricula, students are constantly exposed to all academic subjects, since taking classes in each area of study is typically required. One argument for general education requirements in college is to ensure that students do not rule out any fields of study and that they try to find new interests within those subjects. But most UR students have already been heavily exposed to all of the fields of study throughout high school, so we already have an idea of what subjects interest us and what subjects do not.

Brown University is the most notable institution to implement an open curriculum. Brown, like UR, is a liberal arts university. Through its open curriculum, Brown “encourages its undergraduates to study broadly, to become self-reflective, to engage in community life and to rigorously develop their communication skills.” According to the webpage, Brown wants students to take an active role in their education through the use of an open curriculum.

An open curriculum better aligns with the values of a liberal arts education than general education requirements because it allows students to explore their interests and be engaged in and intrigued by every class they choose to take. I believe this is a fundamental part of the college experience. Students are given the opportunity to discover who they are as well as what they are passionate about.

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The implementation of an open curriculum would be the best method to cultivate the broad interests and skills UR wants in its students. 

Contact opinions writer Emma Hickerson at

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