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Essential Education

Our essential education curriculum is designed to prepare students for a life of inquiry, analysis, discovery, problem solving, effective communication, and innovation.

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What is Essential Education?

Graceland’s essential education is designed for students and faculty to engage the “big questions” and far-reaching issues – contemporary and enduring – in science and society, cultures and values, global interdependence, the changing economy, and human dignity and freedom.

This curriculum seeks to connect knowledge with choices and action and seeks to prepare students for citizenship and work through engaged and guided learning on “real-world” problems.

The curriculum is also designed to foster civic, intercultural and ethical learning, emphasizing personal and social responsibility and a commitment to transformational justice.

The new curriculum seeks to engage the “big questions” by focusing on three specific themes. Students may choose to complete their essential education requirements by focusing on one of the curriculum’s three themes.

Graceland University faculty have endorsed the Essential Learning Outcomes developed by Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) as a document that would inform the direction of this new curriculum, and LEAP’s “Principles of Excellence” are also reflected and embodied in this curriculum.

While the new essential education curriculum was put in place to replace the existing general education requirements, essential education is designed to be something students will encounter across the university, both inside and outside the classroom.

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A Radical Approach

“What makes our approach to a student’s core curriculum so radical is a shift to understanding that the core is essential education. These are the skills that employers are clamoring for in college graduates.”

Brian White, PhD, Dean, Humanities, Visual and Performing Arts

Essential Education FAQs

  • What is essential education at Graceland?

    Graceland’s essential education curriculum is designed to prepare students for a life of inquiry, analysis, discovery, problem solving, effective communication and innovation.

  • What are the student learning outcomes for the essential education program?

    Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) identify what a student should know or be able to do as a result of completing a particular course of study. Graceland’s essential education curriculum has six Student Learning Outcomes:

    • Communication
    • Critical Thinking
    • Ethical Thinking and Action
    • Global Learning
    • Knowledge of Human Cultures
    • Knowledge of Physical and Natural World
  • What are the three themes of essential education?

    Graceland’s essential education curriculum has three themes:

    • Equality and Peace
    • Innovation
    • Sustainability
  • What are the courses that make up the essential education curriculum?

    Each of the three themes has courses in its curriculum unique to that theme. Visit the academic catalog for more information and a complete list of the courses by theme.

  • What is the coursework required for each specific theme?

    Visit the Essential Education Curriculum by Theme page for a complete list of the courses by theme.

  • Do I have to complete an essential education theme?

    Yes.

  • If I complete a theme, what appears on my transcript?

    If you complete one of the essential education themes, your transcript will include the following notation, “Concentration: Essential Education Curriculum (name of theme, e.g. Sustainability) Theme.”

  • What's the process for selecting a theme?

    New students will learn about the themes as they go through the orientation and registration process, in their INTD1100 Critical Thinking in the Liberal Arts and Sciences course, and from material that is available on this website and from academic advisors. Students will be able to request a theme in their INTD1100 class.

    Students need to complete at least four (4) theme-based courses chosen from a single essential education curriculum theme.

  • How is essential education at Graceland different than the previous version of general education?

    The essential education curriculum is different from the old general education curriculum in three important ways:

    • The essential education curriculum has a set of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). These SLOs were carefully developed by the faculty to better prepare students for success.
    • Students will have the option of completing their essential education requirements by taking a series of courses centered around a specific theme. The themes are equality, innovation, peace, sustainability and world citizenship.
    • In the new essential education curriculum, specific courses in academic areas have been designated for the learning outcomes, and only those courses fulfill the requirement.
  • What if I come to Graceland with transfer credit or college credit that I earned in high school?

    College courses that you have taken in high school or at other colleges may count toward your essential education requirements.

    The transfer policy outlines the process Graceland uses to determine what transfer courses will meet essential education requirements. If you have questions about this policy, please contact your academic advisor, the Student Success Studio or the Registrar’s Office.

    Essential education requirements follow students with transfer credits when entering Graceland University.

    • Students entering Graceland with 1-23 s.h. of transfer credit –
      • Any college level math courses that are transferred in will count toward the math essential education math requirement.
      • If a student has taken 3 s.h. in speech or composition, Discourse I is waived and the student must take Discourse II and III.
      • If a student has taken 3 s.h. in both speech and composition or has taken 6 s.h. in composition, Discourse I and II are waived and the student must take Discourse III.
      • If the student has taken 6 s.h. in composition and 3 s.h. in speech/communication, the student is waived from Discourse I, II and III.
      • Students who have taken courses in ethics, visual and performing arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural and physical science will be allowed to apply courses taken in those disciplines to substitute for no more than 6 s.h. of the courses required for a specific essential education curriculum theme.
    • Students entering Graceland with 24-47 s.h. of transfer credit –
      • Any college level math courses that are transferred in will count toward the essential education math requirement.
      • If a student has taken 3 s.h. in speech or composition, Discourse I is waived and the student must take Discourse II and III.
      • If a student has taken 3 s.h. in both speech and composition or has taken 6 s.h. in composition, Discourse I and II are waived and the student must take Discourse III.
      • If the student has taken 6 s.h. in composition and 3 s.h. in speech/communication, the student is waived from Discourse I, II and III.
      • Students who have taken courses in ethics, visual and performing arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural and physical science will be allowed to apply courses taken in those disciplines to substitute for the courses specifically required for courses in an essential education curriculum theme.
    • Students entering Graceland with 48 or more s.h. of transfer credit – students automatically qualify for the “Alternative Essential Education” program. Students must complete 8 s.h. in each of these areas: college composition/speech courses (to include at least 3 s.h. of composition and 3 s.h. of speech); humanities (literature, philosophy, religion, art, music, theatre and foreign language courses); social sciences; and science/mathematics (to include at least 3 s.h. of college-level mathematics and 3 s.h. of natural science). The student must also meet the additional requirement:
      • Discourse III (ENGL3100) or two lower division composition courses with a grade of “B” or better in each course – the Registrar’s Office will review transfer work to determine which option a student uses. If it is determined that the two-course option satisfies the requirement, a waiver of the upper division course will be indicated on the student’s academic record. Courses used to waive this requirement may also be used toward the 8 s.h. of college composition/speech courses.
  • Does the essential education curriculum apply to everyone at Graceland?

    Essential education applies to all undergraduate students entering Graceland beginning with the 2017-18 academic year. The specific requirements will vary depending upon the number of semester credit hours you earned prior to coming to Graceland.

  • Why did Graceland adopt essential education?

    Graceland’s General Education Committee spent the 2014-15 academic year studying the existing general education curriculum to determine the extent to which it was meeting the needs of students. This included a faculty survey that examined what faculty believed students most needed to learn and the extent to which the core curriculum was designed to help students in those areas. Employer surveys were studied to learn more about employer expectations. When the idea of the themes emerged, students were surveyed to assess their level of interest. The recommendation that emerged from this process was that a revised general education package was needed.

    The Committee then spent the 2015-16 academic year designing the new curriculum. The faculty chose to endorse the Essential Learning Outcomes developed by the Association of America’s Colleges and Universities’ LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative, and the committee sought to incorporate LEAP’s Principles of Excellence into the new curriculum. Additional information about LEAP’s Essential Learning Outcomes and Principles of Excellence is available at:

  • How many credits is the essential education curriculum?

    The essential education curriculum is 39 credits:

    Student Learning Outcomes # OF S.H. Credits Required
    Communication 9 s.h.
    Critical Thinking 3 s.h.
    Ethical Thinking and Action 3 s.h.
    Global Learning 3 s.h.
    Knowledge of Human Cultures Total of 12 s.h.

    • 3 s.h. Arts
    • 3 s.h. Histories
    • 3 s.h. Humanities
    • 3 s.h. Social Sciences
    Knowledge of the Physical and Natural World Total of 9 s.h.

    • 6 s.h. Math
    • 3 s.h. Science

    The new essential education requires six fewer semester hour credits than the current general education curriculum.

  • Does essential education involve more than just coursework?

    Yes. The idea behind essential education is that there are essential skills that successful graduates need to develop, and those skills can be developed both in and out of the classroom where their importance will be stressed in a wide range of places.

  • Can a course count for both my major or minor and for essential education?

    Yes, absolutely!

  • May I complete an essential education theme even if I enrolled at Graceland prior to Fall 2017?

    Yes. Students who entered Graceland before the 2017-18 academic year may choose to complete their general education requirements using the essential education curriculum. However, they are also free to complete the general education requirements that existed when they came to Graceland.

  • If I have questions, who can I talk to about essential education?

    You may talk to your academic advisor or the Registrar’s Office.

  • Do online courses at Graceland count for essential education?

    Yes, some of the courses that are part of the new essential education curriculum are offered both face-to-face and online.