By Caitlin Orton
It’s no secret BYU-Idaho is the easiest of the three BYUs to get into; BYU-Idaho has a 97 percent acceptance rate and an incoming grade-point average of 3.4, whereas BYU has a 62 percent acceptance rate and an incoming GPA of 3.8 and BYU-Hawaii has a 64 percent acceptance rate and incoming GPA of 3.6.
Though the three BYUs are different in admissions and location, they share the BYU brand, and until fall semester 2008, they shared similar general education (GE) curriculums. However, when BYU-Idaho remodeled its GE courses, the 10-year-old university set itself apart from the pack and ultimately changed the way students are taught.
When Kim B. Clark, a former Harvard dean, was named BYU-Idaho’s new president in 2005, he brought with him a new GE regime, now called Foundations, which is broken up into five groups: eternal truths, academic fundamentals, science, cultural awareness and connections.
“Instead of traditional survey courses, BYU-Idaho’s new Foundations classes will provide a more focused approach, allowing you to delve deeper into specific aspects of the subject matter,” Clark wrote for the Fall Semester 2008 class catalog.
Foundations are designed to encourage critical thinking and real-life application while shaving 10 credit hours from the old GE curriculum and sparing students from survey-style classes.
Bruce Kusch, associate academic vice president for curriculum at BYU-Idaho, gave the example of the old GE science requirement, which limited students’ choices to one or two survey style classes. With the implementation of Foundations, BYU-Idaho students can choose from eight science classes and each delves into specific science topics, such as natural disasters or energy issues and alternatives.
While some Foundations classes allow students to explore topics more in-depth, others allow students to practice applicable, everyday tasks.
Instead of requiring a specific math class that focuses on a single concept, like algebra or calculus, BYU-Idaho now requires Mathematic Tools for the Real World.
“The math class made the most sense. Instead of taking calculus, which you’ll never use unless you’re a math major, you learn how to figure out your mortgage rate, how much you’re going to be getting back in taxes and how much you will pay in taxes,” said Jason Naillon, a former BYU-Idaho student. “The class teaches you stuff you actually do in life, and that’s what President Clark tried to do when he instituted the Foundations.”
As the requirements changed, many students didn’t know how to react to the shift from the typical university general education system, but Busch said students have shown more interest in the required courses.
“[Foundations] are certainly different and we think there’s been a very positive reaction,” Kusch said. “Especially with those that are used to their GEs, I think some students are more interested.”
As BYU-Idaho ventures to set itself apart in its core educational system, BYU has decided to stick to its roots.
“We are constantly taking a look at the general education courses,” said John Bell, dean of general education. “We’re just starting to create an assessment document that will assess whether or not the GEs are fulfilling the goals. Depending on how that works out, there may be changes.”
While there may be small changes, Bell said BYU won’t be making a fundamental change to new curriculum like Foundations because the GEs seem to be doing their job.
For many BYU students, GEs are difficult, tedious and detrimental to a GPA, but oftentimes students are introduced to subjects they never would have considered otherwise.
“I liked the classes that were more fun and completely different than what I was going to major in, like humanities and English,” said Hannah Shaw, a junior studying business, from Orange County, Calif. “I was able to be really creative, which, in certain majors, is something you just stop doing.”
Shaw said she hasn’t particularly enjoyed every GE, specifically physical science, because many of the classes are rigorous and demanding, but she’s been able to make use of her broad education as she moves closer to the workforce.
“I’ve actually been in several internship interviews where they asked me a string of questions about my humanities and English classes,” Shaw said. “When you compete for jobs and all the kids are coming from Ivy League schools, companies want to know about those classes. They were asking me about philosophy because when they were in college, that was all they studied.
Having taken those classes, I had something I could talk about and it definitely helped.”