Student voices can be valuable assets for creating curriculum

Eva Strelitz-Block

As a pre-med College of Liberal Arts major, I’ve always sought opportunities for multidisciplinary learning. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that if I want to satisfy my major and pre-professional requirements while graduating in four years, I have few opportunities to check out any potential new areas of interest. 

In addition to disciplinary and college-specific course requirements, UT undergraduates must complete the 42-hour Texas Core Curriculum. These requirements are intended to “allow students to put their major coursework into a broader intellectual context and understand how other disciplines raise and answer important questions.” 

When combined with course requirements, however, the curriculum has limited students’ ability to deepen their exploration of personal or novel interests. 

In order to rectify this problem, UT should create a student advisory body that helps administration creatively leverage the Texas Core Curriculum to provide Longhorns with maximal flexibility to nourish their intellectual curiosity. 

UT administrators responsible for the adaptation of the Texas Core Curriculum have worked hard to provide students with as much curricular flexibility as possible within the bounds of state-mandated requirements. 

“We do have one of the largest course lists of core courses that students can choose from in the state,” said Jen Morgan, program manager for the Core Curriculum Office. “We have really tried to make sure that any student will be able to find a course that will be interesting to them.”

However, UT can do more to adapt the Texas Core Curriculum to students’ emerging interests, especially by involving students in the process of determining which courses can fulfill the requirements. 

Not only can we provide insight regarding classes that should be designated as compliant for all, but we could also identify areas that the Texas Core Curriculum has rendered curricular deserts.

“I think (the core) can be really limiting to students who have passions and are really willing to take classes from all different disciplines but (whose) choices don't fit in those really rigid rules presented by UT,” said Willa Scanlon, human development and family sciences sophomore.

The Texas Core Curriculum’s Visual and Performing Arts requirement is a great example of this.

“I have been excited about the VAPA requirement since I came to UT because I have played music my whole life,” Scanlon said. “But upon looking at the course listings offered for the VAPA credit, no legitimate music classes will count for that credit.”

Mary Rose, chair of UT’s Core Curriculum Advisory Committee, which assesses the Texas Core Curriculum and reviews proposals to modify the program, emphasized the merits of the curriculum in “forcing exploration.”

“If you think you know at 18 all of the things you need to know in your life, I would argue that you don’t,” Rose said. “Part of what allows you to go forward with the most flexibility to learn new things is that (Texas Core Curriculum) broad education.” 

However, this broad education fails when students don’t have some degree of choice in creating their own educational pathways. Indeed, offering students enhanced curricular flexibility is an accelerating trend in higher education. Many institutions are even empowering students to create their own degrees. 

By allowing students to take an active role in co-creating new ways to adapt the Texas Core Curriculum to their evolving interests, UT’s course requirements will more fully reflect the needs of students. More importantly, it will foster students’ investment in and accountability for their own learning. 

Strelitz-Block is a Plan II sophomore from Austin, Texas.