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Last week, Wharton announced a new curriculum to be implemented within the next five years. Highlights include a more flexible General Education Distribution and increased emphasis on business ethics and legal studies. 

Credit: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

Last Wednesday, the Wharton School announced a complete redesign of its undergraduate curriculum.

The announcement was made in an email from Lori Rosenkopf, vice dean and director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division, and is the product of a year and a half of deliberations by the Undergraduate Curriculum Review Committee.

While the specific details of the changes have yet to be determined, the new curriculum’s overarching goals are to offer students greater flexibility in pursuing academic interests outside of the Wharton curriculum, impart the lessons of "Management 100: Leadership & Communication in Groups" in a more enduring manner, add more dimensions to the Wharton core and better familiarize students with the many different ways that technology and innovation can be applied to Wharton’s concentrations.

Currently, Wharton students are required to take two courses within three General Education categories: Social Structures, Language, Arts and Culture and Science and Technology. They are also required to take one additional elective in any one of those categories.

The new curriculum will likely require students to take one course in each of the General Education categories and choose the other three courses based on based on their interests. The credits from these three courses can go towards a single General Education category, enabling them to more easily pursue a minor. Or, if they’d like more breadth, they can take two courses in each of the three categories as before.

Another change is the complete restructuring of Wharton’s bracket system. Brackets are sets of thematically-linked courses; students must choose a few courses from each of the brackets in order to fulfill the bracket requirements. Currently included in the bracket course options are legal studies and business ethics courses — which students are not required to take.

The new curriculum will move legal studies and business ethics courses to Wharton’s Business Fundamentals — a set of Wharton courses every student must take. Students will continue to be able to concentrate in legal studies and business ethics.

Rosenkopf said that this change reflects Wharton’s view that business ethics and legal studies are “a fundamental piece of a business education.”

Wharton senior Alice King, who sat on the committee that developed the changes, agreed. “The curriculum would benefit from students all going through an education in ethics and [receiving] a basic understanding of the law,” she said.

The brackets will be replaced by new buckets of classes from which students can choose, King said. These new courses will emphasize technology, innovation and the global economy.

All of the reforms will be reinforced by a major change to MGMT 100, a course that all Wharton students are required to take, most in their first or second semester of freshman year. “We really recognize that Management 100 was doing many things that were critically important. But it is very challenging to accomplish all of those things effectively and make the learning stick when it is all happening the first semester of freshman year,” Rosenkopf said.

To impart the lessons of MGMT 100 more effectively, the single semester, single credit course will be broken up into four, 0.5 credit courses that are to be taken over the four years. Each year will emphasize a different theme of the course. Freshman year will introduce students to Wharton by challenging them to identify critical problems in business and learn about how business leaders address them. Sophomore year will emphasize oral and written communication skills for business. Junior year will focus on honing teamwork and interpersonal skills. Senior year will culminate in a group capstone project.

“Future students will get a lot out of the new Wharton education and the Penn experience,” King said.

The transition from the old to the new curriculum will take place over a course of five years, with the Wharton Class of 2021 being the first class to experience all of the changes.

An implementation committee will be appointed shortly to plan how to integrate all of the changes in the coming years. This committee will have the same structure as the Undergraduate Curriculum Review Committee, which includes 10 Wharton faculty members representing each Wharton department and two student representatives, King and Wharton senior Hari Joy.

The committee presented the slate of proposed changes to the faculty last week, who later voted to approve the changes. While the voting numbers can’t be released, the curriculum had “resounding support,” Rosenkopf said.

Wharton incorporated feedback from students outside the Undergraduate Curriculum Review Committee in the form of surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups and data reports addressing specific issues, as well as informal conversations.

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