Study: UNC’s general-education core is weak

RALEIGH – General-education requirements at 11 University of North Carolina institutions are weak, according to a new study commissioned by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. UNC students are seven times more likely to be required to take a cultural diversity course than they are to study a foreign language, unlikely to be required to study Western history or civilization or even introductory literature, and not required at all to study United States history.

The study, “How Solid is the Core?: A Study of General Education Requirements at 11 North Carolina Institutions,” was conducted for the Pope Center by the National Association of Scholars. It examined the following UNC institutions: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and Western Carolina University.

Steve Balch, founder and president of the National Association of Scholars, and Gary Crosby Brasor, assistant director of NAS, were the lead researchers on the project. Their study was based upon information gleaned from university catalogs for the years 2002 and 2003.

“General education curriculum is lacking” at UNC, Brasor said. “The standards they have set are fine. The problem is they haven’t been lived up to in most cases.”

According to Balch, the study’s findings are typical of what has become the norm in higher education as professors have become more specialized. He also said there is a movement within faculty across the nation to promote social change through their courses.

“It reflects a powerful desire on the part of faculty to specialize in order to pursue their own careers,” Balch said. “Because they want to specialize in their research, they would also like to specialize in their teaching. This drive has been the underlining force in the denigrating of what was 40 or 50 years ago a fairly standard general-education curriculum that did involve a student taking basic introductory courses in major subject areas. The other part of it is the politicization of general education life.”

The study reviewed each institution’s general-education requirements according to a core curriculum benchmark established by the National Association of Scholars: “a two-semester composition course for freshmen, some type of introductory literature course, a Unisted States history course, a four-semester foreign language requirement, and a rigorous science course.”

Ten of the 11 institutions require a two-semester freshmen writing course, according to the report. Appalachian State, the lone exception, requires only a one-semester course, but it also requires an introductory literature course with emphasis on writing through literary essays.

Forty-five percent of the schools offer a remedial or developmental English course, also a growing trend across the nation. “That suggests that (the schools) are knowingly accepting students who are not qualified,” Brasor said.

Forty-five percent of the institutions offer an introductory literature course. The report finds that barely more than a third (36 percent) of the schools surveyed require a course in Western history or Western civilization. In contrast, the study found, about two-thirds (64 percent) “require a multicultural or cultural diversity course.” Worse, the study found that “[n]ot one institution requires all undergraduates to take a course in United States history.”

Brasor and Balch said this is an example of an attempt to create a politically correct education.

“That is what makes the heart beat of American educators to being to race,” Balch said of the increase of a multicultural courses and agenda in higher education. “The notion of pushing this kind of transformative agenda that is going to make American society anew, better and different, very unlike the kinds of ideals and institutions we associate most with America.”

As for foreign language study, an area in which students could obtain serious exposure to foreign cultures through studying a different culture’s thought, ways, and literature as is necessary to do when learning a foreign language, the study found that “[o]nly East Carolina University requires the 12 credit hours in a foreign language needed to ensure basic competence.” The others required so little that as a whole, the UNC schools studied “are seven times as likely to require a course in cultural diversity as they are to mandate foreign language competence.” Brasor said for the other schools, the foreign language requirement was not much different than the entrance requirement to get into the university.

Concerning the required science courses, the offerings to fulfill general-education requirements, even though they included the more rigorous introductory courses required of science majors, also included many less rigorous courses sometimes specifically advertised as “for the non-science major.” The report highlighted a few such courses in its introduction, such as UNCW’s “CHM 103, Chemistry in Everyday Life, ‘A terminal, relatively non-mathematical one-semester course in chemistry for the nonscience major'”; UNCW’s “PHY 103, Great Ideas in Physics,” which “‘Introduces the nature of science to the nonscientist by emphasizing the concepts underly four great ideas in physics’ but also “Explores the mutual influence of science and the humanities (literature, philosophy, history, and the arts);”; UNC-CH’s “PHYS 16, How Things Work, described as ‘Demystifying the working of objects such as CD players, microwave ovens, lasers, computers, roller coasters, rockets, light bulbs, automobiles, clocks, etc.'”; and UNCG’s “NTR 213, Nutrition Facts & Fantasies.”

Brasor said there are steps that the institutions can do to improve the curriculum standards. For one, the institutions could adopt the benchmark courses set forth in the study. He also said that diversity courses could not be so ideologically skewed and that the number of courses available should be reduced.

“This future system is a long way off and it is certainly hypothetical,” Brasor said.

Shannon Blosser ( is a staff writer for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.