Frequently Asked Questions

What is General Education?

To assure that students leave college with a rich understanding of the world, CUNY undergraduates must satisfy Pathways requirements that provide a solid General Education, which includes:

  • Well-rounded knowledge of the humanities, sciences and social sciences
  • Critical appreciation of diverse cultures and intellectual traditions
  • Ways to relate the past to today’s complex world
  • The ability to help society create a fresh and enlightened future

Pathways in General Education:

  • Grounds students in the fundamentals of English, mathematics and science
  • Strengthens critical thinking skills
  • Encourages intellectual curiosity, with the goal of sparking a commitment to lifelong learning

Students can choose among courses to meet most requirements and must communicate effectively in all of them, orally and in writing.

Faculty from across the University have set rigorous academic standards and defined learning outcomes for each requirement and course.

Who created, will evaluate, and will modify the Pathways general education courses?

Every Pathways course has been created by CUNY faculty. Most of the courses were created by CUNY faculty prior to the Pathways initiative, and some were created specifically for Pathways. In addition, Pathways courses are subject to multiple layers of faculty review at the campuses and as part of the CUNY-wide Common Core Course Review Committee. Going forward, faculty will assess the individual courses and modify them accordingly.

How much does Pathways general education differ among the colleges?

Although the basic Pathways framework is the same for all of the colleges (e.g., the eight categories of the Common Core, each with a set of specific learning outcomes), individual colleges have sometimes added learning outcomes to the CUNY-wide learning outcomes (e.g., School of Professional Studies), have sometimes set themes for their Common Core courses (e.g., John Jay’s justice theme), and in all cases have chosen the specific courses for each of the eight categories. For example, City College allows students to satisfy the English Composition category by taking courses with a disciplinary focus, such as “Writing in the Humanities.” In addition, each college with baccalaureate programs has complete freedom to design its College Option (6 to 12 credits) for its baccalaureate students. Some colleges will require students to complete study of languages other than English in the College Option, while others will require courses in philosophy, history, science, or communication.

What sort of exposure to science do students get in the Pathways general education framework?

All students must take at least two courses of three credits each (a total of six credits) in science (one course in the Life and Physical Sciences category and at least one course in the Scientific World category). In addition, students at most of the colleges have the option of taking their sixth flexible core course in the Scientific World category, for a total of nine credits in science. The learning outcomes for these courses include applying the scientific method to natural phenomena; gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data; and carrying out collaborative investigations. Two colleges, Hunter and Baruch, enable students to link courses in the Life and Physical Sciences area with those in the Scientific World area to create what are, effectively, six-credit science courses with extensive laboratory experience. The College of Staten Island is using its College Option credits to create 4-credit science courses and thus offer a broad range of laboratory science offerings. Within the overall Pathways general education framework, different colleges have made different decisions about science requirements and the types of science courses that students will take. This is another example of how the colleges are able to individualize the Pathways requirements and curriculum. Finally, all colleges have had Pathways science and math courses that have more than three credits and that are required for certain majors approved by the Board of Trustees. Such courses are typically offered for students in scientific and mathematical fields, but they are open to all students; every CUNY undergraduate may take these courses to satisfy the Common Core, instead of taking the three-credit science and math courses.

Will Pathways three-credit science courses transfer outside of CUNY?

The Pathways science curriculum is entirely consistent with national norms. For example, as with Pathways, a great many universities (such as SUNY, Harvard, St. John’s, and Penn State) do not require students majoring in fields outside the sciences to take courses with extensive laboratory components. The similarity of Pathways courses to national norms will facilitate their transfer.

Does Pathways change how many courses students have to take?

The total number of credits that each student is required to take for his or her degree remains the same under Pathways. However, given that Pathways brings the proportion of credits devoted to general education in line with national norms (especially at the baccalaureate level), many students will take a lower proportion of their credits as general education courses. The intent is to provide students with increased access to a higher proportion of their curriculum as elective courses, allowing them to explore new curricular areas or to investigate certain areas in more depth. The size of the Pathways general education framework will also facilitate students completing minors and double majors, which can be of significant advantage to students both in terms of their education and in terms of their future job prospects and earnings.

How does Pathways change how much exposure students have to full-time faculty?

Given that the total number of credits required for degrees is not changing, the total amount of teaching is also the same; overall, there is no reason to anticipate any Pathways-influenced changes in the proportion of courses taught by full-time and part-time faculty at CUNY.

Is learning a language other than English (LOTE) required of Pathways students?

Prior to Pathways, some CUNY colleges (e.g., Hunter) required students to take two years of a language other than English, and other CUNY colleges (e.g., New York City College of Technology) did not. Respecting that diversity, the CUNY-wide Pathways framework does not specifically require each student to take courses in a language other than English. However, a college may choose to add that requirement to its Common Core and/or College Option requirements. For example, the College of Staten Island will require students without proficiency in a LOTE who are pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree to complete instruction in a LOTE in the World Cultures and Global Issues area of the Common Core. City College students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences must complete 9 credits of a LOTE in the College Option unless they receive an exemption based on foreign language proficiency. Similarly, Hunter will require students without LOTE proficiency to complete 4 semesters of a LOTE in the College Option.

How does the Pathways general education framework support the development of communication skills in students, the skills that employers state are the most desirable for potential employees?

The CUNY-wide Pathways general education framework learning outcomes specify that every Common Core course must build students’ skills in producing well-reasoned written or oral arguments using evidence to support conclusions. Prior to Pathways, most CUNY colleges emphasized writing skills only in the portion of the general education curriculum that was composed of English Composition courses. Now, these skills are embedded within Pathways courses in widely varying fields, such as in a course in Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies titled “Language and Ethnic Identity,” and in a Biology course titled “The Science of Nutrition,” both of which involve work on student communication skills.

Does the Pathways general education framework provide students with a well-rounded education in the liberal arts?

The committee (of mostly faculty) that designed the Pathways Common Core framework started its work by defining what CUNY graduates need to know and be able to do in order for these graduates to be successful in both the short and long term. The committee then designed the Common Core framework and its associated required learning outcomes in such a way as to ensure that these goals were met. Moreover, the committee specified that the Common Core could consist only of courses defined as liberal arts courses by the New York State Education Department. New York State requires that a significant proportion of students’ coursework consist of such courses; the Pathways Common Core helps to ensure that students take them. Prior to Pathways, the individual colleges’ general education curricula not infrequently included courses that are not defined as liberal arts courses by New York State.

What are some of the other ways that the Pathways general education framework is benefitting students?

Pathways has been designed to offer an array of benefits to students as they access and complete a high-quality undergraduate education. For instance, Pathways should simplify academic advising, the curricula of CUNY’s associate programs and baccalaureate programs will be better aligned, credits for general education coursework will transfer more easily across the University, transfer students’ transcripts will be evaluated more quickly, and students will be more likely to have all of their coursework covered by financial aid.