Catholic colleges that have maintained a strong religious identity also have the strongest core curricula, according to a new study from The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). The study finds that students at most other U.S. Catholic colleges can avoid the study of Catholic theology altogether.
Dr. Kimberly Shankman, dean of Benedictine College and a research fellow for the CNS Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, finds that Catholic colleges generally devote a larger share of undergraduate requirements to general education than other U.S. colleges. Many also require particular courses for all students instead of offering a menu of electives, as is common in most American colleges today.
But when compared to a subset of Catholic colleges with very strong religious identity—those recommended in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, a publication of The Cardinal Newman Society—most Catholic colleges offer significantly less comprehensive and coherent core curricula. Dr. Shankman found that 78 percent of the Newman Guide colleges require 55 credit hours or more for general education, whereas 75 percent of other Catholic colleges require 44 credit hours or fewer.
“It is no coincidence that the colleges most committed to Catholic education devote a larger share of courses to the liberal arts—especially Catholic theology and philosophy—than to specialized studies,” said CNS President Patrick J. Reilly. “Dean Shankman’s work underscores the distinctions among Catholic colleges and the need to rediscover the liberal arts as essential to personal growth, intellectual development and even career preparation.”
Published at CatholicHigherEd.org, the study “General Education at Catholic Colleges and Universities” includes the shocking finding that while many Catholic colleges still require some study of theology and philosophy—traditional hallmarks of a Catholic education—most allow students to fulfill “theology” requirements by studying something other than Catholic theology. Every Newman Guide college in the study requires all students to study Catholic theology, but 61 percent of other Catholic colleges do not.
The CNS Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education facilitates collaboration among Catholic college and university leaders to share, formulate and promote policies and programs that strengthen and preserve Catholic identity.