Opinion | The good and the bad of UA’s new curriculum

Garrett Marchand, Contributing Columnist

The University of Alabama approved a new curriculum in Oct. 2022 that will take effect with the fall 2025 incoming freshman. It will look very different from the current core-curriculum requirements. 

Some of these changes make a lot of sense, while others raise a few questions.

For one, the administration’s choice to standardize the general education requirements provides far less disparity in first-year experience for UA students. 

Currently, the curriculum looks different depending on each student’s college, especially those involved in the College of Engineering. By standardizing many general education requirements, all students will have a similar experience during their general education, no matter the college in which they enroll.

Further, they are reducing the number of overall general education hours, allowing students more time to spend on their major and specialize in the field they want to work.

However, while standardization makes sense, some core curricula changes, particularly relating to foreign languages, could have been better designed.

Most importantly, the Faculty Senate has decided to mandate a foreign language for all students. Thus, the current option for students to opt out of a foreign language by enrolling in computer science classes is being removed completely. 

The current computer science option gives those who did not have the opportunity to learn a foreign language in high school an out since it is immensely challenging for those who were not introduced to a foreign language in high school to pick up a second language at an older age.

According to Scientific American, “the ability to learn a new language, at least grammatically, is strongest until the age of 18 after which there is a precipitous decline. To become completely fluent, however, learning should start before the age of 10.”

Kids worldwide, especially in Europe, who begin learning languages at young ages and continue to use them throughout their education have far better outcomes than American students who do not. 

While the University does make a carve-out for those who have already learned a foreign language in high school, this makes little sense as those who already know a foreign language would benefit from continued exposure to their language of choice in college instead of forcing students to begin a futile attempt at learning a new language in which they will almost certainly never be fluent.

In fact, among college graduates who learn a foreign language, the average increase in earnings over those who do not know a second language is only around 2%. Further, some studies have found that the benefits of learning a second language in terms of wages only exist for specific fields, such as sales, and negatively impact workers in certain areas, such as science and technology. 

Many students view general education requirements like a foreign language as obstacles to graduation. However, many of these same students consider all of their classes as a means to an end and see their degree as the end goal instead of benefiting from the learning along the way. 

Therefore, some classes should be mandatory for all students, but only those that the students have some foundation in before college, like math, science and history. Forcing students who do not have any foreign language background into classes that will serve them little purpose in the future makes little sense at the age typical students go to university.

We must take the good with the bad, and there is a lot of good in these changes; however, the shortcoming of the University’s new curriculum should still be acknowledged.