From our perspective: No more core?

The Whim staff, a rich and varied collection of majors, concentrations and class ranks (to name just a few), is already intimately familiar with many of the headaches that transfer credits, progress sheets and prerequisites can inflict on hapless Highlanders. It is not, by any means, a trial reserved exclusively for honors students, or those brave (and quite possibly ill-advised) souls who pursue multiple degrees. In fact, most members of Radford University’s student community probably have their own tale of academic advising woe: the mysteriously uncounted Advanced Placement credits that ought to have exempted you from a class (but failed to), the GPA requirements that were raised just before your freshman year, the introduction class that you apparently needed to pass in order to take something that is only offered this semester.

The Core Curriculum information page at Radford. Screenshot from Radford University.

One of the most enduring sources of student complaints and criticism, however, has nothing to do with the inevitable administrative issues that arise over the course of any individual’s college career; it is something that affects every student. It is, in fact, a requirement.

We refer, in this case, specifically to the dread and famed University Core requirements. A great many courses offered at RU fall under this umbrella (everything on the top half of your major’s progress sheet, to be exact), but we are particularly interested in the core foundations suite of classes: Core 101, 102, 201, and 202.  This author has actually heard this class sequence sarcastically, and not at all affectionately, referred to as “the Four Horsemen of the Academic Apocalypse.”

While a charmingly clever allusion (though the Honors Core 103 option would ruin the convenient numerical pun), this is not really a fair assessment of the program. We here at Whim are by no means the most zealous supporters of the foundation classes, but we are perfectly aware that they do serve a useful academic purpose — to an extent.

The roots of the core foundations go much farther back than 2010, when the celebration of RU’s centennial prompted the arrival of the new system.  The principles of critical thinking, ethical consideration, and written and oral communication stressed in each of the core classes are based on a centuries-old educational principle called the trivium (from the Latin words for “three” and “roads” or “ways”).  The trivium were supposed to form a basis for students to further their classical liberal arts educations, and (as implied in the name) consisted of three related disciplines: the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the surveys say… Image from How to Learn.

In this strictly academic sense, the core classes make sense. It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to tackle high-level collegiate work in any subject without being able to write and speak comprehensibly (grammar), to think critically and analyze objectively (logic), and to teach or convince someone else that your positions and views are correct and worthy of consideration (rhetoric).

Core classes are not, however, a leisurely stroll through the Elysian fields of classical education theory. For one thing, not every student is required to take all four classes — some Advanced Placement English scores and dual-enrollment credits will exempt students from 101 and 102, while honors students replace both with 103 and Core Connections students combine 201 and 202. While this is a laudable effort at differentiation and option-offering, it can lead to confusion — even resentment — between students on different tracks.

There is also the matter of transfer credits. Whether coming to or going from RU, core classes (since they fulfill a university-specific set of requirements) typically do not count for credit at the new institution. This creates a financial deterrent for students, and makes transferring a much more difficult proposition — whether or not it is the student’s best interest.

We at Whim view core classes as a sort of academic vitamin; they may not taste very good, and you may be able to get by without them, but taking them almost certainly will not hurt you — and will probably make you stronger.