History of the Core

Every Oglethorpe Student’s Second Major

Oglethorpe initiated its “core curriculum,” in the academic year 1944-45, making it one of the first core programs in the United States. In his explanatory brochure about the program, Oglethorpe President Philip Weltner presented a new liberal arts curriculum with the twin aims of equipping students to “make a life and make a living.” Each student would devote one half of his or her college course work to the common intellectual experience of the core, while the student would devote the other half to his or her major area of study. In outlining his new plan and his philosophy of education, President Weltner anticipated some of the ideas featured in General Education in a Free Society, Harvard University’s 1945 statement stressing an emphasis on liberal arts and a core curriculum.

The idea of a core curriculum was at that time so revolutionary in higher education that news of the Oglethorpe Plan appeared in The New York Times in the spring of 1945. Dr. Weltner told The Times: “We are trying to develop keen…appreciation and understanding. Instead of dividing our courses into separate schools, we are giving the students a good liberal and general education which can become the basis of hundreds of vocations.”

Dr. Weltner’s core curriculum for the Oglethorpe students of the 1940s reflected the concerns of the war era: the core consisted of a series of courses under the headings “Citizenship” and “Human Understanding.” As the concerns of the war era receded and the postwar information explosion ensued, the Oglethorpe core underwent extensive revision in the 1960s, with its required courses coming to resemble much more closely traditional courses in the disciplines. Gradually this core came to focus on those courses representing competencies that a well-educated generalist ought to have upon graduating from college.

With the support of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Oglethorpe core curriculum underwent substantial revision in the early 1990s to reflect a new idea about core curriculum and its purpose. Rather than an attempt to define what every student should know or a list of basic competencies every student should have, the new Oglethorpe core aimed at providing a common learning experience for all students. Since the early 1990s the core curriculum has undergone further scrutiny and refinement. Beginning in 1998, Oglethorpe implemented a sequence of new interdisciplinary year-long courses. These sequences, which extend over all four years of a student’s collegiate career, feature the reading of a number of primary texts common to all sections of the courses and frequent writing assignments. Each course in the sequence builds upon the body of knowledge studied in the previous course. Courses in the fine arts and in mathematics complement these sequences. The program explicitly invites students to integrate their core learning and to consider knowledge gained from study in the core as they approach study in their majors. In developing this curriculum, the faculty has renewed its commitment to the spirit of Dr. Weltner’s original core: “We must never for an instant forget that education to be true to itself must be a progressive experience for the learner, in which interest gives rise to inquiry, inquiry is pursued to mastery, and mastery here occasions new interests there.”

As every student’s second major, the core continues to urge students to pursue links among the various areas of study and to appreciate the value of intellectual inquiry. A National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant, which Oglethorpe received in 1996, helped to create an endowment for the core curriculum, guaranteeing that faculty have the resources to keep the core vital and central to learning at Oglethorpe. As faculty work together through frequent conversation about the content and goals of their core courses to provide an integrated approach to learning, one is reminded of the pledge Dr. Weltner made over half a century ago in outlining the core: “Oglethorpe University insists that the object is not to pass a subject; the object is to take and keep it.”