The “non-liberal arts” 12-credit limit is unnecessary and limiting


Towards the end of the add-drop period for this semester, I received a confusing email from the Office of the Registrar. It read: “you are close to reaching the Non-Liberal Arts limit at Mount Holyoke. This means that you are close to maximum amount (12 credits) of classes in the CUSP [curricular support] or non-liberal arts designation that you can count toward your 128 credit requirement.”

I had not heard of this limit before then, so, I looked it up. I knew that I had taken only three credits worth of CUSP courses, and I had no idea what classes would constitute “non-liberal arts.” After searching for a while, the only information I found regarding this limit were vague references on Mount Holyoke’s website. None of these pages said exactly what “non-liberal arts” meant.

I checked my unof cial transcript, and I saw that the Newswriting and Reporting class I was taking at UMass said “nla” next to it, indicating that it had been designated a “non-liberal arts” course. This confusedme; when I had registered for the class, I had not been informed that it counted as “non-liberal arts,” and the course syllabus indicated that it was pretty much the same as the Introduction to Journalism class I had taken at Mount Holyoke, except that it focused more on the technical aspects of news writing.

I called the Office of the Registrar. Apparently, the non-liberal arts designation is determined on a case-by-case basis by the registrar and the Dean of Studies. They usually classify business, accounting and any other career-focused classes as non-liberal arts. According to Elizabeth Pyle, the Registrar, courses that “don’t clearly fall within the scope of Mount Holy- oke’s liberal arts curriculum, which focus principally on professional, vocational, or technical skills, and/or which don’t clearly evidence a liberal arts approach to the questions they examine” may be designated as non-liberal arts. I asked if I could argue that the course is actually a liberal arts class; they said the decision is usually nal.

This limit is unnecessary. The limit on CUSP courses somewhat makes sense, since they often differ from traditional college courses. But there is no actual de nition to differentiate “liberal arts” courses from “non-liberal arts” courses.

When I did some research, I found that Mount Holyoke’s definition of the liberal arts is already broader than that of other institutions. The definition of non-liberal arts courses in the study “Describing the Non-Liberal Arts Community College Curriculum” mostly coincided with Mount Holyoke’s definition, but they also included courses in education in the non-liberal art category, whereas they were offered at Mount Holyoke as liberal arts courses. A BU Today article “Liberal Arts vs. Career Majors: What’s an EducationFor?” implied that the liberal arts category covers an even more narrow spectrum of courses. It included both computer science and social science majors in what it called “career majors” rather than liberal arts majors; Mount Holyoke offers both of these majors in its liberal arts curriculum. It makes no sense that the Office of the Registrar makes one nal decision that cannot be argued about whether a course counts as liberal arts when there is no clear definition of what liberal arts includes.

“Non-liberal arts” classes should not be limited at all; they can bene t students. We are going to college to prepare for a career — why shouldn’t we take ca- reer-focused classes? Business classes could help me put the skills that I have gained from my liberal arts education to practice, which would be a great way to prepare for my future.

If this limit must exist, it needs reforming, or needs at least to be communicated to students more clearly. The information about it is hard to find and extremely vague. The Mount Holyoke website references this limit in multiple places but never actually says what the guidelines are for what counts as a “non-liberal arts” course and what does not. Students should also be able to appeal non-liberal arts designations and argue that their class is indeed a liberal arts course, since they will have a better understanding of what the course constitutes than the Of ce of the Registrar. Students deserve to know which credits can be counted towards their graduation requirement before they near the limit so they can plan their schedules accordingly. The Of ce of the Registrar should warn the students about the limit and how close they are to it whenever they register for a CUSP or a non-liberal arts class.