General Education Program

Policy Number: EP-05.07

Effective Date: Fall 2007

Policy Title:  General Education Program (view the full SCEP proposal)

Contact: Office of Academic Program Development 

Policy Statement: General education at UIC is designed to serve as a foundation for lifelong learning. It will help prepare students for the world beyond the college experience, a world in which one needs to be able to

  • think independently
  • understand and critically evaluate information
  • analyze and evaluate arguments
  • develop and present cogent written and oral arguments
  • explore one’s own culture and history as well as those of others
  • understand, interpret, and evaluate the arts
  • think critically about how individuals influence and are influenced by political, economic, cultural, and family institutions

General Education at UIC has two main components: a grouping of core courses that are clustered around six themes and sets of required proficiencies (outlined in the full proposal). The specific requirements vary from college to college. All colleges, however, require a minimum of 24 semester hours of credit (per Board of Trustees) with at least one course in each of the six categories of general education for the first component and proficiency in writing (as demonstrated by successful completion of English 160 and 161 or by certain scores on placement or other tests) for the second component.

The following rules apply to the new model:

  • Departments decide into which categories each of their courses fit.
  • Departments must justify placing a course into more than one category.
  • Students who register for a course that is listed in more than one category will have flexibility in deciding which category the course will satisfy. They will not have to decide right away but may wait to see how their plan of study develops over time. The course, however, will fulfill the requirement of only one category. (In other words, the course will not fulfill the requirement of two categories just because it is listed in two categories.)
  • Each category of courses has its own content criteria that reflect the general theme of the category. In addition to satisfying those criteria, each general education course must include at least one of the following components: (1) a laboratory, (2) a substantial paper writing assignment appropriate for the subject matter (no changes will be made to the current minimum number of pages), or (3) assignments that include either problem sets or written data analysis. In all three of these cases, students must be given written feedback on such assignments during the semester (i.e., these assignments cannot be given only at the end of the term or as a final, but students must be given feedback on their work during the semester).
  • The existing Cultural Diversity requirement has been reformulated into its own general education category, Exploring World Cultures.
  • Students may count up to two courses in their major toward their general education requirements. If students have a double major, then two courses from each of the majors may be applied toward general education.
  • As before, only 100- and 200-level courses will be included in the list of courses. The current prohibition of courses with non-general education prerequisites will be eliminated.

Reason for Policy: Over the last twenty years, several campus groups have been charged with reviewing and reworking our current general education system. Faculty groups and task forces met in 1985, 1987, 1997, 1998, and, most recently, last autumn (2003) to vet and discuss general education. Last academic year (2002-2003), the Provost’s Office and the Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP) charged the LAS Educational Policy Committee (EPC) with developing a new general education curriculum for the campus. The EPC began its work by reviewing earlier discussions and participating in the discussions last fall. What has been quite striking in the review of these discussions is the recurrence of a common theme: our current system lacks coherence, intellectual direction, and a justification. The 1985 review found that “the current cafeteria of individual courses does not provide sufficient focus or coherence to meet the aims of general education” and recommended “the replacement of the current course menu with a limited number of thematic course clusters.” Similarly, the LAS Committee on Undergraduate Education found in 1987 that the “catalog failed adequately to articulate the philosophy, goals, and objectives” of general education and lamented that “the present multiplicity of courses is bewildering to students and frustrates the attempts to create coherent programs.” The Report from the Lake Geneva General Education Retreat (1997) and the Report of the Task Force on General Education (1999) echoed these concerns and recommended the creation of disciplinary, thematic clusters. Both reports emphasized that future catalogs ought to provide students with clear justifications and sense of purpose for the proposed plan of study. Although the reports of the Fall 2003 discussions are more anecdotal, many of the participating faculty members commented upon the need for a “cumulative experience that provides students with a sense of direction,” “a coherent program that would lead to a sense of integrated knowledge,” a model that would include “specific content areas and discipline themes based broadly on curriculum major areas” or “a roadmap that is somewhat more structured but not too restrictive.”

During its last accreditation visit in 1997, the North Central Association (NCA) found our current system to be one of the few campus areas of concern. Its specific findings agree with those of our own faculty. It was critical of our “cafeteria style” (i.e., long, unstructured lists of courses under the three divisional headings of Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities) and recommended that we create a new model that would be more coherent and circumscribed. It further expressed concern about the way in which we assess achievement. The campus is currently preparing for the NCA’s next visit in 2007, and it is essential that we have a new system in place.

The new model for general education proposed below specifically addresses and seeks to remedy the criticisms mentioned above. In developing the new model, the EPC attempted to provide enough structure to guarantee a certain level of intellectual breadth, while at the same time allowing students the opportunity to select courses or clusters of courses around areas of their own interests. Specifically, the model

  • provides intellectual guidance by identifying six broad areas of knowledge that correspond to the kinds of experiences that a liberally educated person should have.
  • makes clear to students what they are taking and why.
  • is an open system that does not bind departments into one category. This model thus allows for the development of interdepartmental courses over time. It also allows students to gain interdisciplinary perspectives, which was one of the hoped for outcomes of revising general education.
  • gives individual colleges some freedom to adjust the general education requirements to suit their own needs. Although there is a campus-wide minimum of one course from each general education category, colleges may add additional course requirements. For example, LAS will require students to take a total of nine courses. Seven of those courses will be prescribed: two laboratory courses in Category I, “Analyzing the Natural World,” and one in each of the other five categories. Students may then select the remaining two required courses from any of the six categories. They will thus be able to explore their own areas of interest in greater depth, experiment with major fields without being penalized, or perhaps even begin work toward a minor.

Who Should Read the Policy:  Faculty and staff at UIC who are involved in the creation, revision, or elimination of general education courses.

Procedures: View the process and requirements for General Education course requests (coming soon).

Policy History: This policy was endorsed by the Senate Committee on Educational Policy on February 9, 2005 and the UIC Senate on March 17, 2005.


For more information about degree requirements, view the UIC Catalog.