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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects II - September 1993

University of North Texas

The Classic Learning Core

Purpose

The Classic Learning Core (CLC) was developed to overcome the fragmentation of learning characteristic of the distribution requirements that make up general education curricula. The program consists of a set of 21 courses, of which students must choose 17, offered in nine departments.

Students must take the courses in a set order, beginning in the freshman year and extending through the junior year. A capstone course in the senior year rounds off the program. Freshmen take English composition and a foreign language and choose among world history, classical argument (rhetoric) and art appreciation. Sophomores take world literature, political science, American history and foreign language. Juniors take ethics and psychology.

The courses are linked by a theme reflecting the classic values of "virtue, civility and reason." Faculty meet monthly and for two weeks during the summer to coordinate syllabi and reading lists so that courses can make use of readings and ideas that students have worked with or are currently studying in other CLC courses. Faculty incorporate these linkages not only in classroom discussion but in writing assignments and examinations.

Approximately 400 students each year elect the Classic Learning Core, of whom perhaps two-thirds persist to completion. Students who drop out of the Core but remain at the University lose no time, since all CLC courses satisfy requirements in the regular general education program.

Innovative Features

The innovation lies in the linkages. The courses are linked not only thematically but through the design of syllabi, choice of texts and individual items of course content as well. The continuing cross-referencing from course to course and the classical humanistic approach to course content provide the pedagogical links.

Students enjoy the advantages of small classes with a minimum of lecturing and a maximum of discussion. Insofar as possible students are assigned complete primary texts to read.

Beyond the day-to-day activities of the classroom, students and faculty are engaged in common intellectual pursuits. Faculty share teaching objectives, and students in the CLC have extended the relationship that began in the classroom to publication of a newsletter, fund-raising activities and group summer study abroad.

Evaluation

The program received formal qualitative evaluations from two scholars external to the University, one from within the state of Texas, one from outside. They studied curricular materials, sat in on classes and interviewed students and faculty. In addition, a member of the University faculty conducted an evaluation based on questionnaire responses of students and faculty involved in the program. In general, evaluations indicate an encouraging degree of satisfaction with the program on the part of all groups involved and regardless of the form of evaluation.

Project Impact

The CLC has provided a point of focus, both academic and social, for participating students. It has many of the qualities of a college within a much larger university. Faculty who participate regularly in the program report a renewal of energy and intellectual enthusiasm, much of it resulting from the cross-disciplinary interactions and regular association with colleagues in a common pedagogical enterprise.

The CLC has inspired two additional programs. The Classic Combination Master of Business Administration Program combines the CLC requirements, a liberal arts major, a minor in business and a fifth-year master's degree program in business leading to an MBA. The Texas Academy of Math and Science permits early college entry for students proficient in math and science. All students admitted under this program must complete the CLC requirements.

Unanticipated Problems

Program designers and University administrators had originally hoped that the Classic Learning Core would enroll a larger number of students, perhaps becoming a required part of the general education program for all UNT students. The expense of the program, involving as it does small classes and substantial numbers of senior faculty, has not permitted expansion beyond the current 400 students per year. Furthermore, the number of program drop-outs suggests that the CLC would encounter resistance from a substantial number of students were it to become a uniform requirement.

As to the program itself, evaluators noted the need for clearer and more frequent connections among courses. This observation has led to more deliberate efforts to take advantage of the thematic and curricular coherence of course and program design.

An advising program under which each CLC student is assigned a faculty mentor has not worked as planned, largely because so few students take advantage of the opportunities presented.

Major Insights and Lessons Learned

The project has demonstrated that a large regional university can find faculty interested in expending the physical and intellectual energy necessary to offering and sustaining an integrated program of humanistic studies and enough students interested in pursuing it to justify and reward the effort. Such a program is not, however, likely to be suitable for all students or implementable institution-wide because of costs and demand on senior faculty teaching time.

Recognition

Articles on the Classic Learning Core have appeared in several newspapers, including the Chronicle of Higher Education. It has received widely-noted favorable mention by both former Secretary of Education William Bennett and former Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lynne Cheney.

Project Continuation

University of North Texas administrators have been highly supportive of the program since its inception. The CLC is now established as a separate unit, fully supported by University funds. An endowment has been established and $2 million of a $35 million capital campaign have been earmarked to enhance the endowment.

Available Information

Brochures, course syllabi and a student guide to the CLC are available by writing to:

L. Robert Stevens
Classic Learning Core
P.O. Box 13827
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-5187
817-565-4672

or

J. Don Vann
Director of Academic Core Programs
P.O. Box 5187
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-5187
817-565-4030

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Last Modified: 02/22/2006