The message below, from Dean Josef Sorett and Dean Lisa Hollibaugh, was shared with Columbia College students on September 12, 2023.
Dear Columbia College students,
We hope you’re enjoying the start of the term. We are writing to share news about changes to the College’s curricular structure that will shape the undergraduate academic experience in the years to come. While there are no immediate steps for any student to take, you will be receiving more details in the months ahead from faculty and administrators. For now, we want you to understand the nature of, and rationale for, these upcoming changes.
What are the changes?
In its last meeting of the 2023 Spring semester, the Committee on Instruction (COI) affirmed two significant changes to the undergraduate curriculum for Columbia College and the Columbia School of General Studies, which will go into effect in Fall 2024:
- All students of Columbia College will be required to complete a major in order to graduate with the Bachelor of Arts degree from the College. The concentration as a program of study will be phased out of the College’s undergraduate curriculum over the course of the next several years.
- Columbia College will recognize minors as an optional secondary course of study, which students in the College may choose to pursue with their elective credits toward their degrees. Minors will, in most cases, be smaller in size than current concentrations.
This new curricular structure will become effective in Fall 2024. It will apply to all students matriculating in Fall 2024 and beyond. Continuing students (i.e., students who are sophomores, juniors or seniors in the 2024-25 academic year) will still be able to complete a concentration if they are on track to do so; however, those continuing students may opt into the changed curricular structure and complete a minor if they wish to do so.
Why make these changes?
It is the role of the COI to govern the undergraduate experience of the students of both schools — from approving new courses to revising academic policies to approving new or updated majors. While the major may seem to current students like a fixed part of their undergraduate curriculum, the faculty periodically review the major to ensure that we are asking ourselves fundamental questions: What is the purpose of a major? What role does it play in the undergraduate curriculum? What do we want every student to experience in a major, regardless of distinctions among academic fields? What is the nature of advanced knowledge and skills in a particular discipline? How does the major relate to the general education that students receive in the Core Curriculum?
Columbia College has been unique among its peer institutions — and the other undergraduate schools at Columbia — in allowing students to graduate with either a major or a concentration. Because the concentration can fulfill a degree requirement just as a major can, the concentration has traditionally been designed with the same goals as a major, albeit with less advanced coursework; yet, because it is somewhat smaller in size, the concentration is often perceived by students as a secondary course of study, rather than a course of study with the same weight and focus as a major.
A new curricular structure of majors and minors will create greater distinction between the two programs of study. The major will be the part of the undergraduate curriculum that provides the study of advanced knowledge, disciplinary methods and specialized research. The minor will be a smaller and often more flexible academic program, which will allow students to explore a second area of academic interest in a way that is proportional within their overall academic studies.
When will the changes go into effect?
Over the 2023-24 academic year, the COI will be reviewing proposals from departments and programs that wish to offer minors in the new curricular structure. During this year, the COI will also be reviewing all policies that currently apply to the curricular structure of majors and concentrations (e.g., policies on the double-counting of courses and on the limit on the number of declared programs) to determine whether those policies will remain in place or will change within the context of the new curricular structure. Please note that departments will not be required to offer minors, so the full range of minors that can be declared starting in the 2024-25 academic year will not be confirmed until the publication of the 2024-25 Columbia College Bulletin.
To reiterate, there are no steps for you to take now, and we will have more details for you as the academic year progresses. Departments and programs may have initial advice to offer during the upcoming year about future minors, so stay tuned for more information.
Wishing you the best of luck through the academic year.
Dean of Columbia College
Vice President for Undergraduate Education
Professor of Religion and African American & African Diaspora Studies
Dean of Academic Affairs, Columbia College