History of General Education at Northern Illinois University

Fall 2015

General Education Pathways were approved and are effective with the 2016-2017 Undergraduate Catalog.

March 2015

PLUS curriculum was approved and will be implemented in two phases, beginning in the fall of 2015, and continue into the fall of 2016.
 See also the final report.

January 2014

In the spring of 2014, the General Education Visioning Task Force was renamed the PLUS (Progressive Learning in Undergraduate Studies) Task Force.

January 2013

To meet the needs of a 21st century university education, Provost Raymond Alden has established a committee to begin the process of revising NIU General Education Program. Named the General Education Visioning Task Force, the group is comprised of faculty, staff and students who will provide the leadership necessary to critically re-evaluate current general education learning goals, their related outcomes and how such outcomes can be most appropriately taught, learned and assessed. The task force will work in close consultation with the General Education Committee, a standing university committee responsible for the oversight of the General Education Program. - See more at: http://www.niutoday.info/2013/01/28/provost-appoints-committee-to-examine-revise-general-education-program-across-niu-campus/

August 2012

The General Education curriculum, which has not undergone significant review in decades, will begin to be reviewed and revised in the academic year of 2012-2013. As undergraduates complete their General Education course requirements at NIU, they develop mastery of the learning outcomes of the Baccalaureate Degree Experience.  General education courses help students develop the skills necessary for personal and professional success.

Spring 2008

Endorsed the need for review and reform in NIU's Curricular Inovations Task Force Recommendations. A three-day planning workshop resulted in the task force deciding that General Education reform should be based upon the Baccalaureate Goals of NIU, which had not been reviewed since the early 1980's. Revision of General Education was delayed until a proper review of the Baccalaureate Goals and its student learning outcomes.

May 2007

General education reform was identified as a major priority in NIU's Strategic Planning Initiative.


Courses were added and/or reviewed by the General Education Committee on a regular cycle.

Note: The following history was compiled February 2011 by Greg Long (former Coordinator for General Education, Tim Kosiba (honors student).

1983 Report

The Baccalaureate Review Committee, formed by the Council on Instruction, acknowledged the pressures of providing a broad liberal education as well as given students the training necessary for a rapidly accelerating increased of knowledge in their chosen fields of study.  The Committee recommended that the general education program be referred to as "common learning" in order to distinguish it from major programs. They also recommended  three-tiered structure of the common learning experience: (1) core competencies (nine hours); (2) distributive studies (twelve hours of humanities and fine arts, eight hours of science and mathematics, and six hours of social science); and (3) integrative studies (six hours of interdisciplinary coursework).  The also encouraged that study in classical and modern languages and literatures be included in the common learning choices.

1975-76 Catalog

Courses in the general education program are intended to introduce the student to a discipline or broad area of knowledge. Such courses normally make clear the scope of the discipline of which they are a part; introduce the students to the basic assumptions, postulate, or theoretical structure of the discipline; se fort the characteristic approaches or methods of inquiry of the discipline; and make clear the relationship of the course to the discipline of which it is a part and to other disciplines. To the extent possible in a given general education course, the course should develop the student’s ability to analyze problems, accurate discriminate differing points of view, identify the ramifications of various alternatives, understand relevant readings, and write clearly and coherently.

1974-75 Catalog

The general education requirements may be met by transfer credit, course proficiency examination or advance placement, as well as by regular credit.

Proficiency tests are available for all general education courses. For more information, contact the department offering the course.

1970-71 Catalog

  • University requirements: English (6), math (3), PE (4)
  • Humanities (15)
  • Science and mathematics (11-12)
  • Social sciences (9)

June 2, 1965

Council on Instruction General Education Requirements

  • University requirements (16 hours): English (6), speech (3), math (3), and physical education (4)
  • Humanities (15)
  • Natural sciences and mathematics (8-9 hours)
  • Social science (9 hours)

May 1965

Recommendations for Revision of General Education Requirements, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Recommendation I. We recommend that the general education program for this College should fulfill these six broad objectives:

  1. It should give all students a grounding in the intellectual and cultural institutions of past and contemporary civilizations.
  2. It should help students to understand man himself, his physical and biological environment, and his creative achievements.
  3. It should acquaint students with the substance of knowledge and the methods by which knowledge is acquired in fields other than their own.
  4. It should give each student a philosophic perspective on the relationships between his fields of specialization and other fields.
  5. It should contribute to the student’s ability to function responsibly and effectively as a member of modern society.
  6. It should have as its ultimate objective the acceleration of the intellectual development of the student to the point where he assumes full responsibility for his continuing self-education.

Recommendation II. We recommend that students be encouraged to spread their general education courses over their four undergraduate years.

Recommendation III. We believe that Liberal Arts students should be required to take sequences in the various areas of knowledge, as they do at present. The present list of sequences, however, needs a thorough reexamination. It has grown haphazardly through the years, and the approved courses have not been reviewed systematically for some time. Some sequences on the approved list do not meet the requirements of inclusion in a general education program. Some “sequences” have not been designed as sequences and should be restructured. Perhaps some can now be eliminated in the interest of effective utilization of limited College resources. We recommend, therefore, careful review of the present list of approved sequences and further recommend that, in order for a  present sequence or a sequence proposed in the future to have a place on the approved list, it should be consistent with the following guidelines:

  1. It should not be designed for specialists but should consciously stress the general implications of its materials.
  2. It should contribute to the student’s understanding of the methods of study employed by specialists in the area.
  3. It should add the dimension of breadth of the student’s educational experience but should do so with due regard for the values of depth in a circumscribed area. Specifically, courses should explore key concepts in depth; they should not survey superficially entire areas of knowledge or periods of time.

Recommendation IV. We recommend that the General Education Program of the College be revised to provide for sequences in three areas rather than four—that natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. This is the classification system now used for the University as a whole. Each student would be required to take sequence totally sixteen hours in the natural sciences, twelve in the social sciences, and twelve in the humanities; excepting that the student could omit the sequence in the area of his major, as at present.

Recommendation V. We recommend the establishment of a Standing College Committee on the General Education Program, whose function will be to supervise in a general way the operation of the General Education Program, to review in conjunction with the concerned Division (Humanities, Social Science, etc.) approved sequences now on the list and future additions to the list. One of the main functions of the Committee would be to discuss, in conjunction with the departments concerns, whether or not courses proposed as general education sequences do indeed fulfill that purpose. This Committee should be authorized to suggest the creation of sequences not on the list where such additions would strengthen the quality of the General Education Program.

We recommend that the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences be asked to accept the Chairmanship (Ex Officio) of this Committee and that he appoint a vice-chairman to administer the business of the group.

January 6, 1960

Request for syllabi

The Undergraduate Committee on Curriculum and Instruction requests all departments to submit a syllabus of each course in general education....The syllabus for each course should consist of four parts:

  1. A brief statement of purpose specifically relating the course to the general objectives of the field as given in the catalog.
  2. An outline of content stated in general, rather than in specific topics.
  3. A statement on methods of instruction generally employed in the course, reading materials and supplementary devices used, and any special activities required of students as part of the course.
  4. A statement on evaluative materials which attempt to measure the accomplishment of the purposes stated in part 1 above. Samples of test items or questions which specifically illustrate these efforts should be submitted.

February 4, 1959

Report by Committee on Curriculum and Instruction

“A liberal education...is the education which gives a man a clear, conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them.”

The General Education of a student’s undergraduate program is especially designed to contribute to liberal education as defined above by John Henry Newman. This definition is particularly relevant to the purposes which underlie the courses in communication as they appear below.

The undergraduate college has established the following purposes for the other areas of General Education:

Humanities: To expand the student’s understanding and appreciation of and experience in the arts; to aid the student in developing a satisfying personal philosophy.

Natural Sciences and Mathematics: To show the use of, and to give an appreciation of the scientific method of inquiry; to impart scientific facts and principles pertaining to the physical and biological world and an understanding of their implications for human welfare and survival.

Social Sciences and History: To provide knowledge in its historical perspectives as a means of preparing students to make intelligent decisions and take intelligent action in matters of social policy.


The General Education Program at Northern Illinois University by John W. Lloyd, Social Science Department, Committee on Curriculum and Instruction

In May, 1953, a crisis occurred. After three years of soul searching inquiry, complicated by a change-over from the quarter plan to the semester plan, the committee on curriculum and instruction presented to the faculty at large a revised general education program. The revised program, presented in very broad outline rather than in specific courses, was rejected by an overwhelming majority of the faculty. The curriculum committee found itself with a new problem.

The original problem facing the curriculum committee had been compounded of the familiar ingredients of inertia, lack of communication between disciplines, philosophical differences, and personalities. Time and persistent effort in breaking down the barriers to communication had begun to reduce the dimensions of the initial problem. Now, however, the issue dealt with a long established rule that no changes would be made in the general education program except with the majority consent of the faculty as a whole.

It became the task of the committee to demonstrate that growth of the university made such a “twon0meeting” procedure a handicap to curriculum modification. In November, 1954, the faculty in general meeting voted to delegate its authority to the committee on curriculum and instruction to make final decisions on the composition of the general education program provided that adequate provision was made for hearings by departments before final decisions were made. With authority delegated to it the committee proceeded to establish the curriculum as outlined herein, after full consultation with departments.

Is everyone happy about the present program? The question answers itself. By having become more constructively critical of our offerings in general education we find it difficult now to be complacent about any particular course of study or any particular “balance” between the competing demands of the humanities, the natural and the social sciences for a place in a general education program. Instead we are more frequently asking of ourselves such a question as “what contribution does our program make to developments in our students of a sense of values necessary for a life in a free society?”

We now largely accept a broad definition of general education that includes a concern for the development of values such as independence of thought, the ability to make selective judgments, the recognition of beauty in art and literature, the importance of truth, integrity, and honesty. We believe that general education should provide a framework for an appreciation of certain established disciplines at the same time recognizing that these are not static but continually evolving. We believe that general education is abidingly philosophical and seeks for unification of knowledge rather than specialization.

We have attempted to make specific our general education goals in the three areas of the humanities, the natural sciences and the social sciences as guides to course planning and instruction within and among the separate departments of the university. In short we are confident that we are not making changes in general education just for the sake of change; we do not delude ourselves with the notion that any change is progress. We are attempting to buttress our faith in the capacity of an instructional staff to make improvements in curriculum and instruction with reasoned inquiry.

October 20, 1955

The Program in General Education Approved by the Curriculum Committee October 17, 1955

Established the core and distribution categories.

  • Core = biology (health)
  • English 103 (rhetoric and composition) & English 104 (composition and literature)
  • Mathematics
  • Physical education
  • Social science (American history) & social science (Amerian national and state government)
  • Speech 
28 hours total

Distribution  = humanities (8-9 hours), natural sciences (9-11 hours), social sciences (9 hours),

May 7, 1953

Recommendations and Procedures for the Modification of General Education, Report of the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction

General education is the development of the knowledge, skills, and abilities which are the common possession of educated persons as individuals and as citizens of a free society.

General education must provide the sense of values necessary for life in a free society: truth, integrity, recognition of beauty in art and literature, independence of thought and the ability to make selective judgments.

General education must provide a framework for an appreciation of certain recognized disciplines, at the same time indicating that these are not static but continuously evolving.

We recommend that a member of the college academic staff be appointed to Coordinator of General Education under the direction of the Dean of the Faculty.

This report also referenced a curriculum committee meeting (1.28.53) with department heads that addressed the following questions

What is your department now offering in general education? What does your department consider its contributions to general education in the framework of general education goals? What suggestions, if any, would you department make for changes in scope or type of offerings in the total general education program as it now exists?