Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Liberal Education requirement?

Liberal Education (or “Lib Ed” or “Liberals,” as most people at BSU call it for short) is a requirement for undergraduate students to take and pass at least 14 courses in a wide variety of academic fields, including Natural Science, Mathematics, History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Humanities and Arts. At 42 credits total, this requirement accounts for slightly fewer than one–third of the 128 credits required for graduation. In order to meet the requirement, you must take and pass at least one course in each of 10 categories; in four of the categories, two courses are required. Details, and lists of the courses approved for the various categories, can be found in the Liberal Education section of the undergraduate catalog

Q: What is the purpose of Liberal Education?

Ultimately, a liberal education is empowering. It fosters reflective, informed and engaged thinking. For that purpose BSU calls the first two years the Liberal Education Program. Findings from a 2013 survey of employers point to the value of learning in liberal education courses (AAC&U 2013). In addition to helping students identify primary and additional areas of disciplinary interest, Liberal Education courses help:

  • Develop broad knowledge of the physical and natural world and of human cultures.
  • Develop “habits of mind,” knowledge and skills foundational for work in a major.
  • Develop critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, quantitative and information literacy and problem solving skills.
  • Develop cultural competency — an ability to work with diverse others to solve problems.
  • Develop research questions, evaluate theories and assumptions, conduct evidence-based analyses, acquire experience with scientific methods and work collaboratively with others.
  • Work through ethical issues and debates, and engage with timeless questions such as what is truth and what is beauty, and demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity.
  • Learn what it means to live responsibly as individuals and in community and how to build civic capacity.
  • Develop abilities necessary to solve complex problems, deal with change, contribute to innovation and demonstrate capacity for new learning
Q: Where does Liberal Education come from?

Liberal education is an educational ideal with historical roots stretching all the way back to ancient Greece. The philosopher Plato, who founded the original Academy in Athens around 388 B.C., refers to the idea in his dialogue Protagoras. The character Socrates in that dialogue points out that while some studies are professional and specialized in nature, as when a physician teaches students medicine, so that they can become physicians, too, there are other studies that free citizens pursue, not for the purpose of becoming their teachers′ professional colleagues, but just for the sake of their own personal, cultural and intellectual growth.

Socrates′ examples of such studies were spelling, harp-playing and wrestling. The medieval European universities generally taught seven Liberal Arts: the trivium, comprising grammar (Latin and Greek), rhetoric or oratory, and logic or dialectic; and the quadrivium, comprising arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy (including astrology). Many of the oldest and most famous and exclusive private institutions of higher learning in America (and elsewhere) were founded as, and remain, “liberal arts” institutions, though with a larger and more modern list of those “arts” than the medieval one.

Throughout most of its long history, liberal education has generally been offered only to social or economic elites, preparing their members for leadership roles appropriate to their superior status. Bemidji State prides itself on breaking with that tradition, in favor of more equal educational opportunity, and it stands strongly committed to the ideal of liberal education as the very core of its educational mission.

The term “liberal” derives from Latin liber, meaning free. Throughout much of the history of “liberal” education this referred to a freedom only enjoyed by social elites. But you may still think of liberal education, as the American ex-slave Frederick Douglass wrote of basic literacy, as learning that renders you unfit to be a slave — or even a wage slave, a person whose life is wholly circumscribed and defined by working at a job for someone else.

Q: Why is Lib Ed required?

In your Liberal Education courses you can learn and use and cultivate many skills and abilities, such as algebra and writing, that you will need in order to do well in classes in your major, as well as in your career. One of the main functions of Liberal Education is to lay down a foundation of knowledge and intellectual values and abilities that will enable you to keep on learning throughout life, and thus rise to meet challenge after challenge as they arise. Your undergraduate college education should not be thought of as the final part of your education, but rather as a foundation for further education, formal or otherwise, throughout your life.

Sampling the various major types of academic fields, at the college level, helps to lay this foundation by acquainting you with their respective ways of knowing, proving and arguing such matters as fall within their purview. It may also help you decide on a major field, if you are undecided, or introduce you to a new major that you might not have considered.

Last but not least, liberal education broadens what could otherwise be a too specialized college education. This matters because although the work you will do for money after graduation may be specialized, that work neither is nor should be the sum total of what either your life or your education is about. Liberal Education develops abilities that can help you in nearly any professional career, such as public speaking and writing, and the ability to make worthwhile conversation in social situations. But whether your career gives much or little scope for these abilities, other parts of your life can be greatly enhanced by them, notably including your participation in the conversation that is the civic life of your community, country and world. And if in the future you change careers, as most of you likely will, you may even find that your Liberal Education has more enduring and versatile career relevance than your major.

Q: Do I have to fulfill the Liberal Education requirement?

The requirement is waived for students who are admitted to undertake and complete the Honors Program or who enter BSU with an accredited Associate in Arts degree. It is also waived in whole or in part for students transferring in who have completed the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum in whole or in part, at one or more of Minnesota′s other public colleges or universities. (The BSU Admissions staff can spell out the details as they apply to your specific case.) Otherwise, yes, you have to fulfill it in order to get a bachelor′s degree from BSU.

Q: What if I′m a conservative?

The “liberal” part of the term “liberal education” (or “liberal studies” or “liberal arts”) means something quite distinct from what “liberal” means in the context of politics, where it stands opposed to “conservative.” A conservative with a good liberal education is likely to be a more effective conservative, better able to understand and articulate what conservative principles are, and how they apply in various situations, and better able to influence others′ opinions.

True liberal education, however, can be a transformative experience, equally capable of turning a conservative into a political liberal, or a political liberal into a conservative.

If you do not understand (well enough to explain) what the terms “liberal” and “conservative” mean as applied to politics, you are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to participating in the civic and political life and conversation of your country. Liberal education can help here.

Q: What if I plan to finish my bachelor′s degree at another school?

We cannot guarantee that your completing the Liberal Education requirement in whole or in part here at BSU will be counted as satisfying the corresponding requirement(s) at another institution. You have to consult with that institution′s admissions office, the earlier the better. But if you plan to transfer to another of Minnesota′s public colleges or universities, there are some guarantees. Categories one through 10 of BSU′s Liberal Education requirement match the 10 categories of the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, a state–mandated common structure for all such liberal or general education requirements in Minnesota′s public colleges and universities. If you complete all 10 of these categories here, or an Associate of Arts program, and then transfer to another Minnesota public college or university, then that other school′s liberal or general education requirement must be waived for you, or at least as much of it as corresponds to the Transfer Curriculum. If you complete some but not all of the Transfer Curriculum categories at BSU, those categories will be considered complete at other MnSCU schools.

Q: When should I take Liberal Education classes?

Start taking Lib Ed courses your first semester. They teach you things you will need to know in order to do well in the courses for your major. Good examples are ENGL 1151 Composition and ENGL 2152 Argument and Exposition for Goal Area 1 Communication. Pay attention to course descriptions as some courses are to be taken in order. ENGL 1151 Composition is to be taken before taking ENGL 2152 Argument and Exposition.

Q: Should I take all of my Liberal Education courses during my first two years?

There is no right answer to this question, and it depends on your own goals and major. Some students like to take all of their Liberal Education courses during the first two years and “get Lib Ed out of the way”. This may not be the best approach, however. Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Scenario 1
For students who have not decided on a major, filling your schedule with Lib Ed courses is a terrific initial course of action. At some point these students often find a particular kind of course they like that leads them to a decision on major. During the second semester, they may take more Liberal Education courses alongside a second course in an area that had some initial appeal.

Scenario 2 
Some students know their major when they come to BSU. For these students, it is wise to consult with an advisor to see if there is a suggested schedule of Liberal Education and major courses according to semester. Many major programs require courses to be taken in sequence: course A is a prerequisite for course B, and B a prerequisite for C, and so forth, the whole sequence lasting more than two years. In such cases, if you are going to finish in just four years (which we encourage), you have to get started on that sequence before finishing the Lib Ed requirement. Other major programs require courses that are not taught every year, so that you have to take them when they are offered, rather than waiting till you are finished with Lib Ed. Again, consulting with your advisor will help draw up a plan that is suitable for your intentions.

Scenario 3
Some students want to complete their first two years at BSU and perhaps earn an Associate in Arts (AA) degree before transferring to another institution to complete their bachelor’s degree. In order to earn the AA students will need to complete the Liberal Education Program and earn additional credits (60 credits minimum). Schedules for students in this scenario will be filled primarily with Liberal Education courses, with some additional courses of their choosing to arrive at the necessary credit minimum.

Q: What do the numbers in front of the courses mean and can Freshmen take 2000-, 3000-, or 4000-level classes?

Courses numbered at the 1000 level are suitable for freshmen, and those numbered at the 2000 level are suitable for second-semester freshmen and sophomores. In the first semester, it is a little unusual to take courses numbered 2000 or higher, but students who transfer in with credits or advanced understanding of a subject (e.g., Mathematics) may find that a 2000-level course is right for them. Many of the 1000- and 2000-level courses are also Liberal Education courses. Details and lists of the courses approved for the various goal areas can be found in the Liberal Education section of the undergraduate catalog. If courses are not Liberal Education courses, they are often introductory level courses for majors and still suitable for those who might wish to know more about a major.

Courses numbered at the 3000- and 4000-level are more advanced and are typically taken by juniors and seniors. While some of these courses may be found in Liberal Education, they usually are not as they have prerequisites associated with them, are more typically associated only with a major, and are taken primarily by students pursuing a major or minor in that disciplinary area. These upper-division courses may sometimes count for Liberal Education, but generally only if they have no prerequisites and are truly meant to appeal to all students and not just those pursuing a degree in that area.

Q: I notice that some LibEd courses are asterisked (*)—what does that mean?

These courses satisfy Liberal Education at BSU but do not qualify for inclusion in the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum as currently interpreted by MnSCU, and may not be accepted as a Liberal Education course at other MnSCU institutions or the University of Minnesota.

Q: Can any course substitute for a course in Liberal Education and what is the process for checking?

Not just any course will count toward Liberal Education. Courses not approved (such as courses you take for your major) will generally not be accepted as substitutions for approved Liberal Education courses. If you want to substitute a course you have taken for an approved Liberal Education course, fill out a copy of the Substitute/Transfer Course Equivalency form, and ask the Director of Liberal Education to consider your request. You can also turn the form in to the Records Office (physically or by email) and it will get routed to the director.

Q: How does Lib Ed relate to my major?

In some respects, Lib Ed stands opposed to your major. Your major is about specializing, while Lib Ed tends in the opposite direction. It is more useful, however, to see them as complementing one another.

In many cases, some of the courses required for your major may draw on abilities developed in Lib Ed courses. Often, too, Lib Ed courses develop abilities not specifically addressed in your major but still vital to career success in that field. If you ask, your advisor can help you plan both the Lib Ed and major components of your program of study so as to take full advantage of these possibilities.

Q: In Liberal Education, there are so many courses to choose from. Which should I take?

The BSU Lib Ed program gives you a lot of flexibility to decide what combination of courses you will use to complete the various areas. With this freedom comes responsibility: Your advisor can help, but ultimately it is up to you to put together a coherent individual Lib Ed program that is useful and instructive and well complements your major.

It is often possible to count the same course towards the requirements both of a major or minor and of Lib Ed. If you are pursuing a second major, however, or a minor, or simply are interested in pursuing a subject outside your major to a greater extent than will count for Lib Ed, and you still hope to graduate with only the minimum 128 credits, then there is some reason to select courses that will meet Lib Ed requirements and your other requirements at the same time. But do not let a preference for such “two–” and even “three–fers” get in the way of your putting together an individual Lib Ed program that makes sense, works for you and meaningfully complements your major and/or minor programs.

Along the same lines, you should resist temptations to select Lib Ed courses with a view towards completing the requirements with a minimum of effort or difficulty. In sum, do not slavishly follow the path of least resistance to the completion of the Lib Ed requirement. Let your advisor know that you want to go after a quality Liberal Education and not just take the easiest way through. Often the most rewarding learning, the kind that goes furthest to make you a truly liberally educated person, is of kinds that many students find difficult, such as math and languages.

Q: What does it mean when a course is listed under more than one category?

Many courses are listed under two Lib Ed categories. Some American History courses, for instance, are listed both under Category Five “History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences” and Category Seven “Human Diversity in the United States.” In such cases, you can count the course towards fulfillment of the requirements for either or both categories. The credits, however, only count once and you must still have a total of 42 credits in Lib Ed to complete the program. Most students end up with more than 42 credits, but if you do not have 42 total you may take courses from any Lib Ed category to make up the difference.

Some Lib Ed courses are required in majors, and you may use them to fulfill the requirements in both areas but may only count the credits once. As with Lib Ed, you will need to make up the credits for the major with approved courses. See an advisor for help with this.

Q: Who put together this FAQ?

The University′s Liberal Education Committee.