‘I need what?’ A look at Liberal Studies

Most students understand the concept of a liberal study course. They are usually accepted as required credits that are needed to graduate.

Dr. Carol Burton, associate provost for undergraduate studies, understands that “. . .There is a tendency on the part of students to ‘get Liberal Studies out of the way’ so that students can get into their majors.”

Burton hopes that students will eventually understand the usefulness of a full undergraduate experience. In fact, liberal studies courses are built into the curriculum, beginning with the First-Year Seminar.

 Western Carolina University’s Liberal Studies program exists as a means of educating students on how to become contributing, well-versed citizens.

Dr. Brent Kinser, associate professor of English and chair of the liberal studies committee, said, “There are a certain set of ‘knowledges’ that one must attain in order to be considered an educated person.”

Liberal Studies provides this set in order to teach students information, concepts and practices outside of their desired field of study.

Burton said, “Liberal Studies courses are those that encourage and support lifelong learning, not just those tied to career preparation.”

The general definition of such a course’s purpose, according to Western’s Liberal Studies program website, is “. . .To encourage students to think critically, communicate effectively, identify and solve problems reflectively, use information and technology responsibly, develop an appreciation for the creative and performing arts, and, form a basis for continued personal development and lifelong learning.”

 Kinser explained, “. . .A university education is special because it does not solely adhere to the interests and demands of vocational education.”

This means that college is more than showing an employer that one understands and can perform the tasks within the job to which he or she applied. It also says that the student possesses an awareness of other cultures, styles of writing, research on several topics, etc. The Liberal Studies program seeks to prepare students for life outside of the classroom.

“Liberal Studies courses must meet additional approval processes,” said Burton, “including showing how they meet the specific goals for each of the general categories in Liberal Studies.”

The Liberal Studies program is comprised of 42 total credit hours, which are broken up throughout four years. The core consists of 21 hours, the First-Year Seminar makes up three hours, and the perspectives covers the final 18 hours of course work, according to the Liberal Studies website. These courses may be particularly helpful to students who have not yet decided on a major. According to Burton, this allows students to become exposed to a variety of professors, departments and concentrations that they would not have otherwise. Students who have not declared a major may find out they enjoy, and declared students may decide to switch after taking a Liberal Studies course.

Although the Liberal Study courses fall within specific categories, students have more course options than what they may think. With course options ranging from macroeconomics to dance appreciation, there is a suitable option for everyone.

“Why not take a foreign language class to learn about another culture through its language, or take a jazz class even though you are engineering major?” asked Burton.

Burton stated that the Liberal Studies Committee is composed of faculty members representing each of the six colleges, the associate director of the Advising Center, Hunter Library and Burton herself.

“The members of the Liberal Studies Committee review and approve or deny course proposals and monitor the overall administration of the program. They also assess the quality of the program via an established assessment protocol,” she said.

The Liberal Studies Committee also exists to “. . .Assess the quality of the program via an established assessment protocol including surveys of faculty and students, review of course syllabi and data.”

The qualities which define a liberal studies course are those which encourage students to “. . .Demonstrate an understanding of contemporary cultures and their interrelationships; interpret, and use numerical, written, oral and visual data; locate, synthesize analyze, and evaluate information,” said Burton.

Western Carolina’s Liberal Studies program is led by a supportive and goal-oriented staff that seeks to assist students in their search for a personalized course load. Any student with questions concerning courses or the Liberal Studies program should seek help through the student resources found on WCU’s Liberal Studies program website. The website also provides resources to help students to choose courses that apply to their majors or personalities.