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New general studies requirements to better prepare ASU students for a changing world

General Studies Gold, which includes new sustainability credits, to start for newly admitted students in fall 2024

Three people working with outdoor garden

Sustainability students Jarod Kline (left) and Jade Lantz (bottom) work on a garden project at the St. Vincent de Paul Urban Farm with Associate Professor Rimjhim Aggarwal in 2019. ASU's new General Studies Gold requirement will include three credits in sustainability. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

April 18, 2024

Arizona State University has revamped its general studies requirements — the courses required of all students, regardless of major — to better reflect the interdisciplinary knowledge that students need to be successful in a rapidly evolving world.

The updated curriculum, called General Studies Gold, goes into effect in fall 2024 for newly admitted students. To ensure the change does not impact progress students have already made toward their degree, the previous requirements, now called General Studies Maroon, remains unchanged for current students.

Major maps and course catalogs have been updated to reflect the change, and students can check their MyASU to see which version is required for them.

Nancy Gonzales, executive vice president and university provost, said that the General Studies Gold framework is a university-wide undertaking, with the ASU Charter guiding its design.

“Over 500 faculty members participated in the process of designing the new general studies requirements,” said Gonzales. “This group of experts from across academic disciplines came together to identify the most significant questions of the 21st century and the methods that scholars are using to address questions and explore possibilities. What resulted is an interdisciplinary and flexible set of courses designed to teach students the foundational knowledge and skills they need to succeed now and in the future. The new requirements reflect ASU’s particular commitment to sustainability and ASU’s strength as an interdisciplinary, mission-guided institution.”

The updated requirements are also designed to be more straightforward.

“Another reason for the revision is that students were put off by the complexity of the previous system,” said Anne Jones, vice provost for undergraduate education. “True to our design aspiration of 'enable student success,' a goal of this change is to make requirements clear and subjects relevant to our students.”

Graphic illustrating new General Studies requirements

General Studies Gold has 35 credits that are organized into nine categories: Humanities, Arts and Design (6 credits); Social and Behavioral Sciences (3 credits); Scientific Thinking in the Natural Sciences (8 credits); Quantitative Reasoning (3 credits); Mathematics (3 credits); American Institutions (3 credits); Governance and Civic Engagement (3 credits); Global Communities, Societies and Individuals (3 credits); and Sustainability (3 credits).

Additionally, all students — current and future — must complete first-year composition.

“We’re quite excited about the new governance and civic engagement requirement because it’s emphasizing the importance of how informed citizens can engage in society and solve problems; how to be part of a group and participate in collective decision-making; and how to develop the skills to engage in civic society constructively,” said Jones.

ASU is one of the first major research universities to require all students to take a course in sustainability, said Jones, who led the three-year revision project.

“We’re excited to have that requirement, which aligns with ASU’s strengths,” she said. “We were the first to have a School of Sustainability, and now tens of thousands of students will take sustainability courses.”

READ MORE: With new general studies curriculum, 'sustainability thinking' to become part of of every undergraduate student's education

While ASU is continuously updating and adding courses, this is the first overhaul of the entire set of general studies requirements since the 1980s. The process took more than three years, starting with a faculty group in 2020, in charge of reviewing the requirements of other institutions and multiple rounds of feedback from more than 10% of the ASU faculty, and ending with final approval by the faculty senate.

“We had a pilot project in 2020–21 to see what was working and what was not working,” she said.

“What we learned is that ASU needs things to be scalable and accessible to a diverse group of students — first-year students, transfer students, students who are returning to college — ASU has a far more diverse population of students than it did when our previous general studies requirements were introduced.

“We wanted to facilitate success and have people be able to navigate the system without barriers.”

The General Studies Gold curriculum is interdisciplinary and flexible, allowing students to select from a variety of courses to fulfill a requirement. For example, courses that fulfill the sustainability requirement include The Sustainable Plate, in the College of Global Futures; Wilderness and Parks in America, in the Watts College of Public Service and Community; and Society, Supply Chains and You, in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

José Lobo, a clinical associate professor in the School of Sustainability who was involved in the revision process, said that the sustainability requirement is monumental and timely as society grapples with the effects of climate change.

“It’s not just abstract: ‘Sustainability is good for the planet, therefore take a course on it.’

“ASU is saying, in effect, ‘An undergraduate education in the 21st century in the United States must include an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.’ It’s pretty substantial.”

Each General Studies Gold category has several goals for what students should learn, and faculty spent a lot of time on those, Lobo said.

One outcome for mathematics is that students should be able to apply mathematical skills in the solution of real-life problems.

Governance and Civic Engagement has this outcome: Demonstrate the ability to collaborate effectively in the presence of dissenting opinions and experiences.

Students who complete a General Studies Gold sustainability course should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the earth and its ecosphere, including the measures that indicate their capacities and limits.
  • Trace historical impacts of a range of socio-economic, political or cultural choices on integrated human-environmental well-being.
  • Envision pathways toward futures characterized by integrated human-environmental well-being.
  • Articulate an approach to addressing contemporary questions or challenges that employs concepts or practices of sustainability.

“It’s an emphasis on preparing the student to articulate, explain and describe what they have learned. ‘What do you agree with?’ ‘What do you disagree with?’” he said.

“It’s the ability to articulate possible solutions and opportunities, so sustainability is not just a burden that’s imposed on society.”

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