What is the Core Curriculum? Why is it changing?

Central to undergraduate education at the University of Notre Dame is the core curriculum, a set of requirements that apply to all students, regardless of major. Notre Dame’s core curriculum offers a Catholic liberal arts education for the 21st century. It is designed to help students develop a wide range of intellectual capacities that will enable them to flourish throughout their lives — and to make a difference in the lives of others. Learn more here

Because these requirements are so important, the University undertakes a thorough review of its core curriculum every 10 years. In fall 2016, the University’s Academic Council unanimously approved a new core curriculum — the most significant changes to Notre Dame’s general education requirements since the late 1960s. Learn more about the process here.

While the approach to the core will necessarily evolve over time, the goal is always the same: to provide students with a common foundation in learning that will make a unique contribution to their intellectual and personal development.

How is the new core curriculum structured? 

New core chartclick to enlarge

In the new structure, six courses will be required in the general liberal arts, with more student choice than at present and with the new option of a team-taught Integration course with two faculty members from different disciplines. Four courses will be required in the explicitly Catholic dimensions of the liberal arts, with the new option of a Catholicism and the Disciplines course. Finally, to enhance students’ writing skills, the core will include a second required writing course for all students, including those who test out of the Writing and Rhetoric course. A complete list of requirements, broken down into 11 different ways of knowing, is available here

What do you mean by "ways of knowing"?         

The new core takes a student-centered “ways of knowing” approach that transcends some traditional department boundaries and allows students to fulfill requirements in multiple ways. For instance, the new quantitative reasoning requirement—as opposed to a Math or calculus requirement—might be met by taking calculus or appropriately rigorous statistics courses in Math and Applied Math but also in Economics, Psychology, and other areas.

The core curriculum is designed to expose students to various modes of thought for approaching, analyzing, and understanding different aspects of our lives and our world. Each way of knowing forms a complementary part of the larger whole, bringing individual students closer to attaining the intellectual capacities and practices that fulfill the overall goals of a Notre Dame education. Read more about the ways of knowing here.

When will the new core be phased in?

Undergraduates entering Notre Dame in fall 2018 or later will follow the new core requirements outlined here. Current students (and students who transfer in as sophomores or juniors in fall 2018) will graduate under the existing core curriculum requirements.  

Who oversees the core curriculum?

The core curriculum is overseen by a university-level faculty committee supported by subcommittees of domain experts and stakeholders that will formulate and enact procedures for course approval. Learn more about the committee here. The policies outlining the committee structure and duties are here

Who will determine what courses can count in the new core’s "ways of knowing" categories?

Several faculty subcommittees have been working diligently throughout the summer to draft learning goals for courses in each category of the new core. These draft goals will be submitted for review and approval by the Core Curriculum Committee as soon as it is in place this fall. 

Core curriculum subcommittees are also being formed for each way of knowing, and these committees will ensure that courses accord with the learning goals for that requirement.

To ease the transition to the new core, the core curriculum committee will grant a three-year grace period for existing core courses that have an analog in one of the new "ways of knowing" categories.

How will students know which courses count toward their core requirements? 

The Registrar is in the process of updating the degree auditing system for students who will arrive in the fall of 2018, and a coding system is in place to tag courses with appropriate attributes for both current and new core curriculum requirements.

Is there an easy way to compare versions of the core?

The two versions of the core curriculum are summarized below:

Core Curriculum Pre-Fall 2018 Core Curriculum Starting Fall 2018
2 courses in math and 2 courses in science 1 course in quantitative reasoning, 1 course in science and technology, and 1 course in either quantitative reasoning or science and technology
1 course in history, 1 course in social science, and 1 course in fine arts or literature 1 course in fine arts or literature or advanced language and culture, 1 course in history or social science, and either 1 Integration course or 1 course in a way of knowing not yet chosen for this requirement
2 courses in theology (1 foundational and 1 developmental) 2 courses in theology (1 foundational and 1 developmental), with appropriate placement available
2 courses in philosophy (1 introductory and 1 elective) 1 introductory course in philosophy and 1 additional course in philosophy or the Catholicism and the Disciplines category
1 University Seminar taken in first year 1 University Seminar taken in first year
1 Writing and Rhetoric course taken in first year unless waived with AP credit 1 Writing and Rhetoric course taken in first year or, based on AP score,
1 other writing-intensive course (can be a second University Seminar)
1 Moreau First Year Experience course 1 Moreau First Year Experience course

How does the core enhance Notre Dame’s Catholic character?

As central threads in the Catholic intellectual tradition, theology and philosophy have played and should continue to play a central role in Notre Dame’s core curriculum. In placing theology and philosophy at the core of its Catholic liberal arts education, Notre Dame embraces a paradigm of the intellectual life that emphasizes the complementarity of faith and reason. 

As part of its charge, the core curriculum review committee was asked how the core curriculum can not only sustain but also deepen our commitment to Notre Dame’s Catholic character. In the end, it recommended a combination of two theology courses, one philosophy course, and either one additional philosophy class or one Catholicism and the Disciplines (CAD) course, which will integrate material connected to Catholicism with courses in a variety of disciplines. 

More detail on these deliberations is available in the Core Curriculum Review Committee’s final report and in the CCRC’s Catholic Mission Focus Group report.

Will any courses still be double-counted for University requirements? How about College or major requirements?

Regardless of which core curriculum you fall under, a University Seminar (USEM) course may be double-counted to fulfill both the USEM requirement and one of the other university requirements. For example, the Contemporary Education Issues course counts as both a USEM and a social science. Japanese Ghost Stories counts as both a USEM and a literature course. 

Students who test out of Writing and Rhetoric may have opportunities to double-count by choosing an approved writing-intensive course that also fulfills a university, college, or major requirement. Writing and Rhetoric does not count toward any other ways of knowing.

No other single course can fulfill two University requirements for a single student. For example, a class on sacred music could potentially be designated as both a CAD course and a fine arts course, but could only fulfill one way of knowing for a given student. 

In many cases, university core courses may also fulfill college or departmental requirements and can be double counted in that way. 

What is the policy on using AP credit to satisfy core requirements?

While students can no longer use AP credit to satisfy a university core curriculum requirement, Notre Dame will continue to accept the current set of AP exams for credit on the transcript, and the university is considering whether to expand that set. 

AP credit can also be used for placement into higher-level courses, to satisfy some college/school/major requirements, toward financial aid requirements regarding progress toward graduation, and as evidence on the transcript of completed requirements for professional programs (for example, graduate schools in economics like to see several math courses on the transcript).  

For most students, the new core curriculum as a whole should increase flexibility and possibly reduce the number of courses students need to take relative to the old core—even with the change in AP policy.

More discussion and data related to the AP policy is available in the core curriculum review committee's final report and Advanced Placement Focus Group report.

Why did the core curriculum change the number of required science or math courses?

A large majority (almost 80%) of Notre Dame undergraduates are required by their major to take appropriate math and science courses as part of their development path. A large majority (almost 90%) of students come to Notre Dame already having had a year of calculus. This second number is a dramatic shift since the math requirement was instituted in the late 1960s. Given these two considerations and the recommendation that AP credit would not be allowed to substitute for a core requirement, the consensus was that three courses in quantitative reasoning and scientific and technical analysis would represent sufficient exposure to these topics for those students who are not required to study them as part of their major. This is especially true if the core courses in these areas are inspiring and give the students the context they need to appreciate the importance of these areas. Without the option of AP credit, it might be that the number of students taking these courses will actually increase under the new core.

How is the writing requirement changing?

The current writing requirement involves one Writing and Rhetoric course and one University Seminar, both taken in the first year. More than 60 percent of Notre Dame students test out of the current Writing and Rhetoric course via the AP English Literature Exam or the AP English and Composition Exam. Starting in fall 2018, only the AP English and Composition Exam may be used for this purpose—and students who test out of Writing and Rhetoric must still take an additional writing course at Notre Dame beyond University Seminar. This could be accomplished with a second University Seminar or a designated writing-intensive course in their respective major or as an elective. There will be many opportunities for a student to double count his or her second writing course with either a major, college, or core requirement. The University will provide pedagogical support to assist in the development of new writing-intensive courses in the schools and colleges.

Will technical writing courses count for the new second writing requirement?

Yes, if they have a sufficient amount of writing as assessed by the University's core curriculum committee. We hope and anticipate that faculty across the University will identify or create courses deemed as writing intensive so that students can fulfill this requirement in their major programs. 

Why not require a course on diversity or sustainability—or propose requirements for community-based learning?

Many compelling proposals were submitted for new core courses on these and other important issues. After much deliberation, the university decided not to require a course on a single topic given difficulties in selecting one particular topic over others and given questions of scale in an undergraduate student body of more than 8,000. Instead, it created a new category of team-taught Integration courses on enduring questions and pressing issues of all sorts that will model for students the value of intellectual work that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

Because “Integration” courses must be team-taught, will both professors receive full teaching credit for their courses?

Yes. Both professors should be in the classroom for each session. It would not be considered an Integration course if one professor teaches for seven weeks and then another professor takes over for seven weeks. 

Why suggest that students take the core curriculum courses across their four years at Notre Dame rather than mostly in their first year?

As the core curriculum review committee gathered responses from students, faculty, and alumni, one of the most ardent pleas was a desire for more flexibility. In the current system, Notre Dame students have either been encouraged or required to take most core classes in the first year. By spreading the core courses more evenly across their four years at Notre Dame, students will be able to start pursuing their academic passions sooner. It is important to note some majors, including engineering, require a certain sequence of courses that must be taken in the first year. All students should work closely with their advisors to figure out how best to schedule university core courses in combination with the courses required by their college or school and their major.