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Educational Consultant on Trinity University’s Innovative New Curriculum

College admissions expert Mark Montgomery talks about the new Pathways curriculum at Trinity University, an attempt to make their liberal arts degrees as well-rounded and interdisciplinary as possible. If you want to get admitted to a great liberal arts school, look into Trinity University.

I’m here at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Trinity is a university. It is a master’s degree-granting institution, which kind of messes things up for Trinity because it’s not really a liberal arts college, in which case it would be ranked alongside all of the liberal arts colleges in the United States, and it’s not really a comprehensive research university, so it doesn’t get onto the list of comprehensive research universities. So in terms of ranking, Trinity falls somewhere kind of in a limbo. But it is number one in the West; it has been for, I don’t know, a decade or more at least. It has been the top university in the West.

What I want to talk about right now is its curriculum, and Trinity has revised its curriculum entirely and has been very intentional about it, and I’m really fascinated by the fact that this new curriculum was approved by the faculty by a unanimous vote. And anybody who’s ever worked in a university like I have knows that having a unanimous vote of the faculty on anything is extraordinarily uncommon. So that’s a testimony to the fact that the faculty are really getting involved in this decision.

I won’t go into the details, but I think that the thing that I find the most interesting about this is that Trinity is really trying to bring the liberal arts and make it mean something. It’s not just a cafeteria plan. It’s not just a bunch of general education requirements, you pick one course from this bucket and one course from that bucket and one course from that bucket, which really doesn’t mean that the student has learned anything that is skills-based or that there’s been anybody who has thought, “You know, in order to be an education person in this world, this is what we think you ought to know and learn and be able to do.”

So Trinity has some skills-based requirements that they want every student to do, that’s writing, that is oral presentations, that’s quantitative reasoning, that’s even digital literacy. They also have some requirements, yes, in the breadth of the curriculum, making sure that you’re doing lots of different disciplines, but they also have these “clusters,” they call them, these interdisciplinary clusters that force students to bring different disciplines together around a certain theme so that they can actually see how different disciplines and ways of thinking bear on the solutions to problems in a specific realm of knowledge.

So the thing I really think is interesting about it is, number one, the whole faculty was involved in this; second, the faculty also has a committee that determines whether or not a class fulfills one of these requirements and can be considered part of this new Pathways core, and can be part of that. And in order for the students to want to take it, it’s got to meet some of these requirements. And third is that it’s intentional, it’s bringing, really, the liberal arts and deciding what is that? What is critical thinking? How do we get students to develop those skills? Trinity has thought this through, they’ve got a fantastic new curriculum. It’s going to be interesting to see how it pans out as they continue to unroll it for more classes. But I’m really optimistic, I think this is a great innovation, and I think other liberal arts colleges would do well to consider how do we actually ensure that students at a liberal arts-oriented university like this, how do we ensure that student really gets the liberal arts education, the skills, the knowledge, the interdisciplinary thinking that goes into what we think of as a liberal arts education? So Trinity University, hats off to you, it’s a great experiment and I hope it works out.

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