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So How's That Open Curriculum going ...


Replies to: So How's That Open Curriculum going ...

  • mythmommythmom Registered User Posts: 8,305 Senior Member
    For my S having a vibrant astronomy and physics department and distribution requirements was wonderful. He had always been a strong science student and had always expressed an interest in medicine. He was an adequate math student as well.

    I was surprised when he made an abrupt about face in college and announced he never wanted to take biology again and was jettisoning medicine as a goal.

    However, the reputation of the physics/astronomy department and the folklore about some of its professors piqued his interest and he had a wonderful time in some really interesting courses offered only because the department is alive and kicking. For instance once of his courses was on Newton and Einstein's theories of space, complete with problem sets and a lot of quantitative work. Others involved much star gazing. And he's a Classics major.

    So, even Humanities students lose out when science departments wither. I am not pointing a finger at Amherst, just offering anecdotal evidence of some of the value of distribution requirements.
  • katbenckatbenc Registered User Posts: 35 Junior Member
    I confess, you've bested me in numbers (must be that terrible quantitative education I'm getting). I thought total number of majors was more relevant than going by classes; the page I found the Williams info on (somewhere on the admissions page) didn't specify it was a five-year average.

    I still don't think Amherst's lower showing in quantitative subjects is either a bad thing or a product of the open curriculum, though. Bowdoin does have a core curriculum, yet its numbers are very similar to Amherst's, whereas Grinnell has an open curriculum and far more science majors than many schools that require science classes. From reading this thread I've gotten pretty convinced that it all depends on the individual school, not the number of required courses it has. Admissions is very good at selecting the type of students the school wants overall, and I don't think we should credit the curricula with molding the aspirations of the student body.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    I still don't think Amherst's lower showing in quantitative subjects is either a bad thing

    It's a mistake, I think, to look at any of these statistical measures as "good" or "bad". They are simply descriptive and the colleges they describe will appeal to different students. For example, being as diverse as Amherst on a continuum from "diverse" to "lily white" may be important to Student A, while Student B couldn't care less about diversity.

    I think a good way to look at colleges is to start assembling statistics on a number characteristics such as:

    a continuum from urban to rural
    large to small
    region of the country
    per student endowment
    PhD production
    percentage of science majors
    SAT scores (to target schools you can possibly get into)
    finanial aid (merit versus need, etc.)
    percentage of varsity athletes
    percentage of frats
    surveyed binge drinking rates

    These are all desciptive pieces that fit together to form a puzzle picture of each college or university. Then, you are not just stabbing in the dark. You can say, diversity and being near a city is important and the college search begins to focus in some meaningful way. It also forces you to start prioritizing. Is location or per student endowment (proxie for financial resources) more important?
  • TheGrablerTheGrabler Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    Well, at Davidson, you find a lot of kids who are pre-med but also majoring in another discipline. There are loads of Pre-Med english, poli-sci, etc. majors
  • mythmommythmom Registered User Posts: 8,305 Senior Member
    ^^^^^^Good advice, though I must say we fuzzy humanities types in my family followed a way more intuitive process. DS ending up at Williams. Go figure. He's very happy there. His major criterion was good classical music. Now he has abandoned his music major, but he is still quite happy with the school

    DD had one criteron: NYC. She liked Barnard better than Columbia (and I liked the admit rate better), so she applied ED, and voila. If she had checked the per student endowment she might have drawn a very different conclusion.

    Turned out to be the absolute right place for her.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member

    Yeah, the intuitive way works for a lot of students. On the other hand, I think we've all seen applicants here who describe themselves and what they are looking for in a college. Then they give their list of schools and you just have to scratch your head? Like the Latino/a kid asking if Washington and Lee is pretty good with diversity. Or the gay kid asking about Baylor.

    Or the kid who simply cannot decide between the school with the $100,000 per student endowment and the one with the $1 million per student endowment and you just want to go "DOH! If you like them both the same, go to the one with ten times more money to spend on you!"

    I didn't really know enough to suss out the key statistical indicators til later. I think this science one tells a lot about various schools.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    Adding some more schools of potential interest. Some top regional private universities, some top publics.

    35% -- Stanford University
    33% -- Rice University
    31% -- Duke University
    31% -- University of California-Berkeley
    30% -- Princeton University
    30% -- Carleton College
    29% -- Swarthmore College
    27% -- Columbia University in the City of New York
    26% -- Grinnell College
    26% -- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
    26% -- Haverford College
    26% -- Vanderbilt University
    25% -- University of Chicago
    24% -- Williams College
    23% -- Harvard University
    23% -- Bryn Mawr College
    21% -- Dartmouth College
    20% -- University of Virginia-Main Campus
    19% -- Brown University
    18% -- Pomona College
    17% -- Yale University
    17% -- Davidson College
    17% -- Bowdoin College
    16% -- Smith College
    16% -- Washington and Lee University
    15% -- College of William and Mary
    15% -- University of Pennsylvania
    15% -- Amherst College
    14% -- Oberlin College
    13% -- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    12% -- Wesleyan University
    12% -- Claremont McKenna College
    12% -- Wellesley College
    11% -- Emory University
    11% -- Middlebury College
    11% -- Vassar College
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 3,438 Senior Member
    Bowdoin does have a core curriculum, yet its numbers are very similar to Amherst's
    I'm also surpised by Amherst, Yale, Pomona, and Bowdoin.
    In some cases, you may have to look at the degree statistics carefully to see what's really going on. For example, I think the numbers above probably underestimate science/math majors at Bowdoin.

    Bowdoin has several traditional science majors, like those at other LACs. However, Bowdoin also offers a number of inter-departmental science majors, including biochemistry, computer science/math, chemical physics, geology/chemistry, and geology/physics. The biochemistry major is particularly popular; in fact, it appears to attract more students than the traditional chemistry major. But these joint majors -- even though they involve science/math exclusively -- seem to be classified under "Interdisciplinary Studies," rather than under "Natural Sciences/Math."

    For the Bowdoin Class of 2009, the percentage of "Natural Sciences/Math" majors is only 18%. This is comparable to the 17% figure listed above, and does seem closer to Amherst (at 15%) than to Williams (at 24%).

    However, the number for the Bowdoin Class of 2009 rises to 22%, if you include biochemistry and the other interdisciplinary majors offered jointly by the science/math departments. That moves Bowdoin over to the Williams part of the spectrum.
  • sunmachinesunmachine Registered User Posts: 824 Member
    Does the the 11% number at Midd include the Environmental Studies majors?
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 3,438 Senior Member
    I don't expect to find a perfect correlation between an open curriculum and reduced interest in science/math, or distribution requirements and increased interest. There are no perfect correlations in this business.

    But I think that if we start tabulating different LACs and student interest in science/math, we will probably find that (1) women's colleges, and (2) coed LACs with open curricula will tend to appear in the lower part of the list, and that (3) coed LACs with distribution requirements will tend to appear in the upper part of the list.

    There will surely be exceptions to all of these rules. Bryn Mawr is a women's college with a lot of science/math majors. Grinnell has an open curriculum and a lot of science/math majors. Middlebury has distribution requirements and relatively few science/math majors. But I suspect that an overall pattern will still be evident.

    Everyone can surely agree that an open curriculum is beneficial to those who want to avoid taking science or math courses. Is it unreasonable to suggest that it could have the opposite effect to those with the opposite inclination?
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 3,438 Senior Member
    Does the the 11% number at Midd include the Environmental Studies majors?
    Probably not. And it's probably true that the relatively large Environmental Studies program at Middlebury does draw some students who would otherwise be science/math majors.

    But I would be reluctant to include environmental studies majors in the tally, because at most schools that offer it (including Midd), this major is only partly science-oriented. That's why schools typically use the name "environmental studies," and not "environmental sciences".

    Even if it was included, Midd would probably still be in the Amherst range, rather than in the Williams range -- despite the fact that it is not a "open-curriculum" school. I would guess that this discrepancy reflects Midd's traditional reputation as a great LAC for languages and writing.
  • sunmachinesunmachine Registered User Posts: 824 Member
    Yeah, I've always looked at environmental studies as "science lite" -but I admittedly haven't taken a close look at any specific curriculum and would be happy to stand corrected after hearing from someone who has. This from the father of a son who is very interested in biology and environmental studies.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member

    The longer list I posted is from the IPEDs database which uses the "industry standard" list of departments or fields. Science is either "Biological and Health Sciences" or "Physical Sciences", so I strongly suspect that it captures all the hyrbrids like Bio Chem and so forth in one category or another. Swarthmore has a significant number of graduates in those majors and the IPEDS appears to have captured it quite well.

    I did not include the Environmental category in the custom report, so I probably shortchanged Middlebury. I didn't incude it because the category includes fisheries, wildlife management, forestry, etc. I was trying to stay consistent with the data Corbett had already put together. I just checked. Adding in the "Natural Resources and Conservation" field bumps Middlebury up to 16%.
  • unitofobscurityunitofobscurity Registered User Posts: 78 Junior Member
    As for the correlation between core curriculum and %math/science majors, I'm pretty sure Reed is around 1/3, and they have a substantial core (and a nuclear reactor).
  • kwukwu Registered User Posts: 4,759 Senior Member
    The number of science majors at my institution is bigger than the that of yours! *thrust, thrust*
This discussion has been closed.