Since 1987, every student who received a baccalaureate degree from a Texas public institution of higher education has been required to complete the state’s general education core curriculum as part of their degree requirements. Regardless of the student’s academic discipline or “major,” each student earning an undergraduate degree from a Texas public institution of higher education holds in common their completion of the Texas Core Curriculum.
Core curriculum courses offer Texas students a unique educational opportunity they will not have again. The Texas General Education Core Curriculum assures students high-quality undergraduate educational experiences across a broad range of intellectual and practical areas of inquiry. Far from being those "basics" that students are frequently advised to "get out of the way," the Texas General Education Core Curriculum embodies a carefully-designed set of significant intellectual skills and content intended to contribute in specific ways to excellence within the undergraduate experience for all students.
Texas law provides this definition for “core curriculum” (TEC §61.821): “ … the curriculum in liberal arts, humanities, and sciences and political, social, and cultural history that all undergraduate students of an institution of higher education are required to complete before receiving an academic undergraduate degree.”
The first legislative initiative to define "core curriculum" was House Bill (HB) 2183, passed in 1987 by the 70th Texas Legislature. That bill provided for the adoption and evaluation of general education core curricula by Texas public colleges and universities. HB 2183 sought to ensure quality in undergraduate higher education.
Senate Bill (SB) 148, passed by the 75th Texas Legislature in January 1997, repealed all earlier legislation concerning either lower-division transfer or core curriculum. SB 148 sought to resolve certain concerns regarding the transfer of lower-division course credit among Texas public colleges and universities, while maintaining the core curriculum as one of the fundamental components of a high-quality undergraduate educational experience. More recent sessions of the Texas Legislature have fine-tuned the existing laws regarding core curriculum, but the essentials of SB 148 have not changed since 1997.
The current statutes (TEC §61.821-61.832) continue the state-level focus on excellence in undergraduate education while facilitating the transfer of lower-division course credit among public colleges, universities and health science centers throughout the state. One of the most important provisions allows a transfer student to use the successfully completed group of lower-division core curriculum courses to substitute for the similar group of requirements at the college, university or health science center to which they transfer.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was required by law to adopt rules that include "a statement of the content, component areas, and objectives of the core curriculum" – a template or model for a consistent statewide curriculum. Details of the statewide core curriculum are included in Coordinating Board Rules, Chapter 4, Subchapter B. Within the statewide model, each institution selects the specific courses it will offer to fulfill that model in a way that takes into account the individual role and mission of the college, university, or health science center. Those course selections and other aspects of core curriculum implementation must receive final approval from the Coordinating Board before they can be implemented, and institutions must evaluate the effectiveness of their core curricula at regular intervals (usually once every five years) and report the results of those evaluations to the Board.
Across the state, core curricula adopted by an institution of higher education and approved by the Coordinating Board must require courses totaling 42 semester credit hours (SCH), unless an individual institution has requested and received approval from the Coordinating Board to have a core curriculum that exceeds 42 SCH (institutions may decide to request an expansion in the number of SCH they want to require for their core curriculum, up to 48 SCH). A completed core curriculum must be transcripted as such, and will transfer and substitute for the approved core curriculum at any public institution of higher education in Texas.
The Coordinating Board relied heavily on advice and recommendations from faculty and administrators at Texas public colleges and universities regarding the content, component areas, and objectives of the statewide core curriculum. Two advisory committees were convened, one between 1987 and 1989, and the next between 1997 and 1999, and each committee was charged to make recommendations to the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board, and to offer other assistance in the implementation of the laws regarding core curriculum.
Each Core Curriculum Advisory Committee consisted of 24 members who were appointed after an exhaustive process in which institutional presidents, along with chancellors and systems officials, were invited to submit nominations for membership. Committee membership represented two-year and four-year institutions equally, and as specified in the law, a majority of the members held faculty appointments, although admissions and registrars offices, academic advising centers, and undergraduate general education administrative staff were also represented among the committee membership.
As all institutions of higher education strive to meet the goals for participation, success, and excellence in public higher education that are recognized as essential to the continued prosperity and success of all Texans, the Texas General Education Core Curriculum provides one opportunity for each college, university and health science center to focus on its commitment to enhancing the quality of undergraduate education across the state.