I am also not from your requested response group. However, I do have a few thoughts I would be happy to share.
Apparently there was a change in requirements beginning in 2009. Before, there were AOS (Areas of Study) requirements where students had to select classes from several different academic areas (what would often be referred to as “distribution requirements” by many colleges and universities) prior to graduation. This requirement was apparently dropped as the College moved to an “Open Curriculum” in 2009.
To answer your question “do you end up taking the breadth of classes that would have been covered by the distribution requirements of typical colleges?”, the most accurate answer is that it probably depends on the student. You can take a full breadth of classes if you choose, or you can narrow your focus.
Removing a constraint only means that the original outcome is not forced. It is still available.
To be considered for Phi Beta Kappa (which is probably not on most students’ minds as they go through college, selecting courses), you would still need to choose to develop breadth in your course selections outside your major.
To answer your other question, “what has it enabled you to do that you may not have been able to do at other schools?” I suppose the answer is that you are enabled to be highly focused in one or two academic areas if you choose.
As a parent of a student who is looking at various schools, one of the things I really appreciate about Kalamazoo College is how they tend to analyze their own operations with actual data AND how open they are with sharing that information through their website. For example, on this very topic, in 2012 they looked at student course selection before and after the move to an open curriculum, and the results of their study are included on their Educational Quality Assessment page ( https://reason.kzoo.edu/eqa/eeq/ ) – see the “2012 Breadth Analysis” and “2012 HLC Presentation on Breadth at Kalamazoo College”. The latter is a power point presentation, and you don’t have the person speaking to present the findings, but you can learn a fair amount by going through the slides. For instance, you can find out that before the move, about 90% of students took a class in Philosophy or Religion. After the switch to an open curriculum, one of the earliest classes affected had only 50% of students who took classes in that area. Similarly, when the AOS/distribution requirements were in place, almost all students took one or more classes in the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. With open curriculum, inside of two years close to 10% of students avoided that division, taking no classes.
So, are students using the open curriculum to “focus” on areas of interest? Or are they using it to “avoid” areas where they are not comfortable? I would suspect the latter, but can’t say for sure. The effective difference between those two is only one of intent, though, as the outcome is the same: there is not as much breadth being accessed under the open curriculum.
According to the brief report available on-line, a focus group eliciting responses from students about this issue found “many first years and sophomores were attracted to the College by the open curriculum; seniors, who started under the former degree requirements, were more ambivalent about the open curriculum; overall, students were unsure about whether the College values breadth; students were more likely to value breadth if they perceived that advisors valued it; and students were more likely to follow advisors’ advice when they believed their advisor cared about them as individuals. The consensus among students was to keep the open curriculum and find ways to provide structure, and most saw advising as key to providing structure.”
Perhaps that answers in part what (then/2012) current students thought about the open curriculum. I don’t know what they think four years later.
Please note that all of the above is simply what I have discovered through reading/research and is NOT based on first or second hand experience, so I could be wrong.