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Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a collection of frequently asked questions about William & Mary's new general education curriculum. The responses come from a number of resources, including a Q&A with Provost Michael R. Halleran that appears in the spring 2014 issue of the William & Mary Alumni Magazine. William & Mary faculty continue to work on the details of the new College Curriculum (COLL), to be launched in fall 2015. This page will be updated, revised and expanded as additional information becomes available.

What are the components of the undergraduate curriculum?

The undergraduate curriculum at William & Mary includes the major requirements, electives and course requirements that apply to all students (currently known as the General Education Requirements). The faculty reviewed and adopted changes to the general education portion of the curriculum, not the majors and electives.

How many credits are included in "general education"?

General education courses make up about 30 of the 120 credits required for the bachelor's degree. This total number of credits in general education remains roughly unchanged in the new curriculum. We say "roughly unchanged" because the precise number of credits will depend on exactly which courses are chosen to meet the requirements.

The new general education curriculum has been described as the College Curriculum, or COLL. What does that mean?

The new curriculum makes changes only in the general curriculum education component, that is, about 10 courses. Of these 10 courses, seven will be College Curriculum (COLL) courses specifically designed to introduce students to the liberal arts. The courses will stress writing skills, interdisciplinary perspectives on important issues, global studies and a research experience. The other three courses that make up the general education requirement will require students to select courses from three broad areas of study: The Natural World and Quantitative Reasoning (natural sciences); Arts, Letters, and Values (humanities); and Cultures, Societies, and the Individual (social sciences). The main innovation lies in the development of COLL courses specifically developed by W&M faculty to provide an outstanding education in the liberal arts.

Why change W&M's general education curriculum now?

Great institutions are always under construction, always adapting to new circumstances to remain current. Institutions that resist change run the risk of becoming irrelevant. In that spirit of innovation, faculty continually update their courses and modify requirements in major fields of study. General education requirements, which affect all undergraduates, change more slowly. Universities typically review and refine those requirements every 20 years or so. William & Mary's current general education curriculum was adopted in 1993. The world has turned over many times since then. Changes in several fields have been quite dramatic, and global connections have become even more important.

After a long process of deliberation and refinement, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted last December in favor of new general education requirements that will go into effect in the fall of 2015.

When did the curriculum review process begin?

When President Taylor Reveley came into office in 2008, he launched a university strategic planning effort. That process identified a goal for W&M to be a leading liberal arts university with a revised general education curriculum to advance that goal.

What are the goals of the new College Curriculum?

As noted above, the new general education curriculum responds to William & Mary's strategic plan's focus on being one of the world's leading liberal arts universities and providing the very best undergraduate education. The plan highlighted W&M's exceptional engaged learning, the close interaction among students and professors exploring ideas through rigorous inquiry including real student-faculty research, while also noting W&M's potential to expand in interdisciplinary and global studies. The new curriculum emphasizes these strengths. It also puts increased emphasis on the development of communication skills throughout the four years of study.

How will the new general education curriculum work?

Beginning in the freshman year, COLL 100 courses will provide a foundation in critical thinking within the liberal arts by emphasizing inquiry on overarching ideas. COLL 150 seminars will strengthen written and oral communication through intensive focus on a topic. Starting typically in the sophomore year, COLL 200 courses, at least one from each of three knowledge domains (broadly humanities, social sciences and natural sciences), will expand a student's exposure to various disciplines and the integration of different modes of inquiry. Junior year, COLL 300 will ask students to consider their expanding knowledge base from a global perspective. Finally, senior year, COLL 400 will provide a culminating experience through capstone work in the major, such as an honors thesis or research project. As noted above, students must also take three additional courses, one from each of the domains, and demonstrate proficiencies, as they currently must, in writing and a foreign language as well as complete a new math/quantitative skills requirement. Read the complete description of the College Curriculum.

Can you explain the three broad knowledge domains?

As mentioned above, COLL 200 introduces students to the ideas and methods of one of three knowledge domains: Arts, Letters and Values (ALV), Cultures Societies and the Individual (CSI), and the Natural World and Quantitative Reasoning (NQR). Broadly, we have referred to these domains as humanities (ALV), social sciences (CSI) and natural sciences (NQR), though it is important to understand that courses in the domains will arise from multiple disciplines. COLL 200 courses are anchored in a "knowledge domain" and will intentionally look outward to one or both of the other knowledge domains. We want students to think critically about the discipline or disciplines represented in the course and how they fit into the broader framework of the liberal arts. Interdisciplinarity is thus built into the structure of the course itself.

Can you give examples of COLL 200 courses?

A current general education course in 18th-century American history, which now concentrates on primary historical sources, might be adapted into a new COLL 200 course by drawing in addition on geological, marine science or epidemiological studies to explore how the environment affected the communities of Tidewater Virginia. The history professor teaching the course would consult with his or her science colleagues on campus, and the history students would be introduced to different questions, materials and methods drawing on those other disciplines. Or, using another example, instead of taking a course on Greek tragedy, a student might study fifth-century Athens through art, religion, anthropology and literature.

What are the key differences of the of the COLL system versus the current General Education Requirements (GERs)?

The current General Education Requirements, or GERs, require students to complete coursework in seven specified areas. Students can, and most do, fulfill some (even many) GERs before arriving on campus. The average freshman now enrolls having already earned 16 credits, roughly one semester's worth.

  • Unlike the current GER system, all COLL courses will all be taken at W&M. They will be true college-level, intellectually demanding W&M courses designed and taught by W&M faculty.
  • Every incoming freshman will take, in addition to a first-year seminar (similar to current Freshman Seminars), a 100-level course focused on big ideas that frame how we view the world. Both courses will challenge them to think critically and creatively, while also developing communication skills.
  • Every student will also take at least one course grounded in each of the three broad knowledge domains, and each of these courses will intentionally integrate concepts across disciplinary boundaries.
  • Every student will expand his or her global understanding, ideally by studying abroad (our goal is for 60% of all undergraduates to do so), through another special program off-campus or through newly designed 300-level courses taught on campus.
  • Every student will have a "capstone" experience, most typically in the major during their senior year. This will serve as a culminating course and will bring together critical thinking, problem solving, scholarship and communication skills. This can be satisfied through upper-level seminars, independent study and research projects, and Honors projects, as deemed appropriate by departments, programs or schools.
Do students have flexibility to graduate early with COLL?

Yes. While the new curriculum framework envisions COLL courses spread over a student's entire academic career at W&M, there are few mandates on timing. Students will take two College Curriculum courses, COLL 100 and COLL 150, in their first year. Both provide a necessary foundation to the liberal arts. In reality, a student could finish in three years, even if currently only few of our students elect to do so.

Will students still receive credit for Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) courses?

Yes. W&M students can continue to apply credit earned through AP and IB courses towards the 120 total credits required for a bachelor's degree. But the COLL system ensures that a W&M graduate will, in fact, complete the majority of the general education here at W&M. The practical result will be that AP/IB credits will continue to count towards other parts of W&M general education, electives and, in some cases, the major.

When will the COLL curriculum be implemented?

W&M will pilot new general education College Curriculum courses in fall 2014 and spring 2015. W&M will launch the new curriculum with the fall 2015 freshman class. The College Curriculum will be introduced in stages over four years, with each succeeding year in place as the initial class of students moves toward the senior year.

What general education curriculum applies to current students?

Current students at William & Mary and students arriving in fall 2014 will remain under the General Education Requirements system. Beginning with the entering freshmen class of 2015, students will be taking the College Curriculum as their general education.

How will the changes impact transfer students?

As a state institution, W&M adheres to statewide agreements regarding transfer students and co-enrollment programs with community colleges. While we hope these students can participate in the College Curriculum as fully as possible, we also want them to graduate on time. Determination of the details has been postponed until new state agreements are finalized later this spring.

Can you explain the process used to develop the College Curriculum?

In autumn 2010, Provost Halleran wrote a memo to the three deans with a purview over undergraduate education (Arts & Sciences, Business and Education) asking them, with Arts & Sciences in the lead, to take up with their faculties the promised review of the curriculum, setting broad parameters for their exploration and encouraging them to be expansive in their thinking. Over a two-year period, the Curriculum Review Steering Committee, comprising broadly representative faculty and a student member, through frequent meetings, focus groups and widely attended fora, studied, discussed and developed a plan. After approving a set of guiding principles and framework for the curriculum, the faculty, over an additional year, considered, debated, modified and ultimately voted to adopt the individual elements and then the overall package of the curriculum.

What has been the role of the administration?

Changes to the curriculum are the purview of the faculty, with oversight, consultation and ultimately endorsement by the Provost and the President. That is what has occurred here.

Why are curriculum reviews led by faculty?

For centuries, it has been the practice at colleges and universities, not just W&M, for the faculty to determine how courses are structured into a curriculum that best serves the overall education of students. W&M faculty are experienced scholars and teachers, and their work with students and their lifelong experience make them uniquely qualified to conduct the curriculum review. US News and World Report recently ranked W&M third of all universities in the country in the faculty's commitment to teaching, a gratifying affirmation of our tremendous strength in this area.

Will the College Curriculum uphold the rigorous standards of a W&M education?

Absolutely. If anything, the integrated nature of the COLL curriculum should demand more and deeper thinking by our students. Rigor is the result of professors and students of the highest quality demanding academic excellence from one another in every course without exception; it is not confined to specific courses in prescribed areas. Rigor has been a hallmark of a W&M education for centuries, and it will continue to be.

How will the new curriculum enhance faculty advising and student support?

There are several plans to enhance support for general education in addition to the new curriculum. For example, we intend to expand academic resources and services alongside the current Writing Resources Center to include quantitative learning. To prepare for implementation of the College Curriculum, Arts & Sciences has already put in place a new Center for the Liberal Arts with rotating College Fellows. The first cohort of four W&M faculty members began work in January. Each Fellow will design and teach a new COLL course and assist their colleagues in developing their own general education courses. The Fellows will also play a role in determining how best to provide academic support to students outside the classroom.

Will the College Curriculum cost more?

There will be some development and transition costs as faculty design and implement the new courses, and some investment in expanding the engaged learning model that characterizes a W&M education. When fully implemented in 2019, we expect annual costs of the new curriculum to be approximately an additional $700,000, mostly to fund increased research opportunities and the capstone experiences for all our undergraduates. While the costs are not trivial, they are modest when you consider the College's overall academic budget is $160 million, and they constitute an important investment in the quality of undergraduate education.

What will be the College Curriculum's effect on job prospects for students?

The COLL curriculum will be one important part of a student's W&M education. W&M students will also continue to take a major (and often a minor), along with electives. Collectively, this combination of breadth, depth and integration will provide excellent preparation for graduate and professional schools and for careers of all kinds. Overall, our goal is to provide students with the knowledge and skills that shape independent thinkers, engaged in the world around them and prepared to assume leadership roles in their chosen fields.

What are the next steps?

As noted, we are now beginning the implementation process. In the spring and summer of 2014, College Fellows are working with faculty to design COLL courses we will pilot in fall 2014. Pilot courses this fall will likely include some COLL 100, COLL 150 and COLL 200 courses. Full implementation is planned for the entering freshmen class in fall 2015. For a couple of years we will be running parallel general education curricula as we phase in the College Curriculum. There remains planning yet to do and implementation to be carried out. This will be a thoughtful, deliberate process.