Academic Policies

Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE) at Virginia Tech

Why We Have It (Statement of Purpose)

    As a vital component of undergraduate education at Virginia Tech, the Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE)–required of all undergraduates--empowers our students with a broad base of knowledge and transferable skills. Liberal Education provides students the opportunity for rigorous intellectual encounters with enduring human challenges and important contemporary problems, through wide-ranging exposure to multiple disciplines and ways of knowing,

    Through the study of the Sciences, Mathematics, Social Sciences, Histories, Languages and the Arts, the CLE is designed to foster and develop intellectual curiosity and critical thinking; strong analytic, communication, quantitative, and information literacy skills; the capacity for collaboration and creative problem solving; the ability to synthesize and transfer knowledge; intercultural knowledge and understanding; and ethical reasoning and action. The CLE seeks to create the conditions for growing creative and intellectual engagement; civic, personal, and social responsibility; and lifelong learning.

What Students Will Gain

    A liberal education offers 21st century students the foundations of what they need to live and thrive as citizens in a globally engaged democracy, a knowledge-intensive economy, and a society where new ideas and understandings are essential to progress. The success of today’s college students in their communities, workplaces, and across their lifetimes depends upon a complex and transferable set of skills and capacities. In their lives and in their careers, our students must be prepared to grasp complex problems, develop a global perspective on the diversity of human experience and knowledge, respond to changing demands, and articulate innovative responses and solutions. Today’s students are very likely to change jobs and even careers several times over the course of their lives; and certainly, their roles and responsibilities in their families and communities will change and evolve over their lifetimes as well.

    The breadth of a rigorous liberal education combined with the depth of specialized study in the student’s primary academic discipline(s) --and evidenced in a demonstrated capacity to adapt and transfer knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and questions--is essential to the education of the whole student and sets the stage for a lifetime of learning and growth.

Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE) Areas of Study
    Because the Curriculum for Liberal Education is a "living curriculum," there will be some changes from year to year. Courses added to the CLE offerings are generally available to students immediately after being approved. Some CLE requirements are phased in over a multi-year period. Thus, it is essential that students continue to consult with their advisors. Please visit the CLE homepage at for more information, and for the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides.
Areas of Study

    1 Writing and Discourse
    6 credit hours required
    2 Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values 6 credit hours required
    3 Society and Human Behavior 6 credit hours required
    4 Scientific Reasoning and Discovery 6 or 8 credit hours required
    5 Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning 6 credit hours required
    6 Creativity and Aesthetic Experience 1 or 3 credit hours required
    7 Critical Issues in a Global Context 3 credit hours required
    **Students should consult with their advisors about specific college or departmental requirements in these areas.

Area 1: Writing and Discourse

    6 credit hours (2 courses) selected from first-year writing courses. Students who entered the university prior to Fall 2005 and maintain continuous enrollment until graduation must meet the previous Writing Intensive (WI) requirement. Students should consult with their advisor.

    Area 1 requirements reflect the centrality of discourse in the larger intellectual community. Our first-year writing courses introduce students to the interrelated and shared modes of verbal communication that are distinctive to college life - argument, interpretation, analysis, and metaphor and whose various usages substantially delineate what it means to become broadly educated. These beginning courses should be thought of as the springboard for further writing and discourse throughout the undergraduate curriculum, especially in the disciplinary concentration.

    In order to enable students to meet the aims both of liberal education and of professional preparation, we include writing in many courses throughout the university, even if it may not be the main intellectual skill emphasized in the course.

    Students are encouraged to seek out courses that offer frequent opportunities for writing and related forms of discourse, both for the enhanced learning these courses can offer and for also their benefit to the student in terms of professional preparation. Many courses in the Curriculum for Liberal Education build upon the writing and verbal skills that are the direct goal of Area 1 by including a significant writing component and by encouraging the achievement of excellence in communicating ideas and knowledge.

    Formerly, the CLE required writing-intensive (WI) courses to support the development of students’ writing skills across the undergraduate career. To better facilitate and broaden this goal, the requirement evolved into a departmental requirement for Visual, Spoken and Written Expression (ViEWS). Development of these competencies may be fostered through specific courses in the major, courses outside the major, and/or previously designated WI courses.

    Students may meet the first year writing requirement in one of three ways:

    1. By successful completion of the two-semester sequence, ENGL 1105-1106 or COMM 1015-1016;
    2. By successful completion of ENGL 1106 (for students who are exempted from ENGL 1105 based on standardized test scores and high school class rank). Students who successfully complete ENGL 1106 at Virginia Tech in the first enrollment with a C- or better receive pass/fail credit for ENGL 1105.
    3. By successful completion of ENGL 1204H (for students who meet English Department Honors standards or University Honors standards). Honors students who successfully complete ENGL 1204H at Virginia Tech in the first enrollment with a C- or better receive pass/fail credit for ENGL 1105.
    Other information: Virginia Tech accepts ETS Advanced Placement credit for the freshman writing sequence

Area 2: Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values

    6 credit hours (2 courses) selected from approved CLE courses

    Every student should be introduced to some of the ideas, cultural traditions, and values that have shaped the human world we now inhabit. An educated person sees the present in connection with the past, and understands that presently prevailing values and meanings derive from the creative thought and action of men and women who have preceded us. A study of influential texts, ideas, representative works of art and technology, and the development of cultural traditions begins to free the student from the superficial fads of the moment and from narrow provincialisms. By examining some of the enduring ideas about human nature and achievement past and present, the individual gains a greater degree of self-knowledge and is better able to formulate worthwhile aims and commitments.

    Courses in this curricular area take the human condition and human values as their main focus, while dealing with a range of subject matters: philosophy, literature and communication, history, religion, the arts, and technology. Most of these courses deal with some aspect of Western cultural experience in its numerous varieties. Relatively neglected dimensions of this experience such as the experience of women and minorities will be acknowledged and dealt with, both as an integrated aspect of many existing courses and in separate courses which focus directly upon these dimensions. The foreign language courses approved for Area 2 study the literatures of other countries in their cultural contexts. Moreover, since we are living increasingly in a global cultural context, courses are included that introduce the student to formative non-Western ideas, arts, and traditions as well.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

Area 3: Society and Human Behavior

    6 credit hours (2 courses) selected from approved CLE courses

    Human beings are not only participants in the world of human culture; we are also observers of it. The cultivation of systematic approaches to the study of humanity is one of the great achievements of the human intellect. Every student should therefore be introduced to the sciences of society and human behavior, a goal that can be accomplished through several avenues: through the study of psychology; through the study of social structures such as government, family, community, or economy; or through more wide-ranging examination of social patterns and processes. Such studies may examine past as well as present, non-Western as well as Western societies.

    Courses in this curricular area are best characterized by their methods of study and theoretical frameworks. They look for regularities in human behavior rather than giving primary attention to the unique or non-repeatable aspects of life. If not quantitative, they tend at least to be descriptive. When varied human values and allegiances nevertheless make their appearance within these disciplines, they do so more as objects to be investigated than as commitments to be honored.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

Area 4: Scientific Reasoning and Discovery

    6 credit hours of lecture (2 courses); 2 credit hours of related laboratory (2 labs)* selected from approved CLE courses

      *Please note: Students should consult with their advisor as to what are the CLE Area 4 requirements in their specific college or department.

    For many students at Virginia Tech, acquiring detailed knowledge of one or more of the natural sciences is essential. But for all students, a liberal education involves the study of what science is, of how it can be conducted, of what it can and cannot tell us about the world. Without scientific study and the experience offered by a laboratory, students perceive only vaguely how and why science functions as a crucial standard for rational knowledge and inquiry in modern life. The study of a science engages the student in analysis and deduction as well as empirical experimentation -- that is, in scientific reasoning and discovery.

    The impact of the natural sciences and technology on our globally interdependent world is one of the most important realities we face as we enter the 21st century. The science courses in the Curriculum for Liberal Education have a special role in educating students about the critical relevance of scientific knowledge to the potentialities and dilemmas of our natural and social environments.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

Area 5: Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning

    6 credit hours (2 courses) selected from approved CLE courses

    Like writing, mathematics is essential to intellectual inquiry in many areas. It is a basic language of the natural and social sciences and has become a useful tool for research in the humanities. The technological uses of mathematics and related forms of symbolic analysis are of tremendous significance to human society. Furthermore, the history of quantitative and symbolic reasoning as an intellectual discipline is linked with philosophy, the arts, and other aspects of human culture. Thus, a broad education must include these forms of reasoning, both as skills and as central modes of human thought. Mathematics, statistics, and certain areas of computer science and philosophy can all contribute to broadening a student's knowledge of quantitative and symbolic reasoning.

    A diagnostic formula and testing procedure has been derived to predict readiness for Engineering/Science Calculus at Virginia Tech. A precalculus course, Math 1015, has been developed for those students who need further preparation. You can obtain information about the math diagnostic test from your advisor.

    Many departments throughout the university have specific math sequence requirements. Be sure to check with your advisor about the requirements for your program.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

Area 6: Creativity and Aesthetic Experience

    1 or 3 credit hours selected from approved CLE courses. Students in the College of Science and most majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences must take (1) 3-credit-hour course. Students should consult with their advisors about specific college or departmental requirements.

    The arts contribute significantly both to the experience and the interpretation of human life. Creativity and aesthetic response criss-cross the boundaries between intellectual ideas, the imagination, and actual design. Moreover, the arts are always intimately linked with the material culture of a society -- its modes of production and design -- as well as with its values and ideas. Thus, the arts can be studied and experienced in a variety of ways: as "high culture", as a means of tracing the history and ideas of particular societies, and as an active process of creative design and expression in many different physical forms. The metaphorical and intuitive thought processes that are essential to making and experiencing works of art are woven into many other human cultural and creative activities. Thus, the arts have an important role to play in broadening our sensibilities. Most artistic media include a highly public dimension -- concerts, exhibitions, performances, publications, public installations, and the built environment -- in which the creative works of artists, designers, and their collaborators are accepted or contested as meaningful elements of the larger social fabric. A guided exposure to the arts can provide a valuable framework for continued appreciation of, and participation in, the arts beyond college.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

Area 7: Critical Issues in a Global Context

    3 credit hours (1 course) selected from approved CLE courses

    Global interdependence is a powerful fact of life as we enter the 21st century. The dilemmas and possibilities humankind faces cannot be effectively addressed by any single culture or group of people acting alone. An awareness of critical issues of the day is thus an essential extension of liberal education and prepares students to respond thoughtfully to the complex world in which they live. As a state institution of higher education, Virginia Tech has a responsibility to prepare students to react creatively and constructively to the social, international, intercultural, and environmental challenges that confront the Commonwealth and the world.

    The university requires that undergraduates take at least one course that deals in a substantial way with major issues of critical importance for the larger global society. Courses that satisfy this requirement can be taken in any area of the curriculum, including the major, the Curriculum for Liberal Education, or electives. Students may select from a wide range of courses that focus on major international and intercultural issues in contemporary world affairs, including such areas as politics, the management of conflict, the roles of economic competition and cooperation, demographic issues, and the emerging world order. Many science courses in Area 7 will examine global issues associated with environmental decline and restoration. Some engineering courses study the role of technology as a major force in shaping the cultural and economic conditions of human societies. Other courses include comparative or cross-disciplinary examinations of cultures, societies, and belief systems, including those of developing countries. Other courses examine the social and personal implications of cultural, racial, and gender-based differences. Whatever the topical focus of the course, all Area 7 courses utilize interdisciplinary approaches in which a number of relevant factors - historical, ethical, technological, cultural, and/or scientific -- are brought to bear on the issues being studied.

    See the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides for a listing of approved CLE courses in each Area of Study.

    Please note, there are some differences among colleges and departments as to which Curriculum for Liberal Education courses students should take to fulfill their CLE Areas of Study. Please consult your advisor and the Curriculum for Liberal Education Guides.