General Education Program

General Education Program

Student Experiences with General Education

Watch this video and learn about what SUNY New Paltz students gained from our General Education program. Then scroll down to learn more.

The Value of General Education

SUNY New Paltz’s General Education (GE) Program provides the foundation for your intellectual development. GE courses provide you with a broad knowledge base and essential communication skills.  Not only will you gain exposure to knowledge, you’ll also explore new perspectives, ways of thinking, arguing, and being. Through your GE courses, you will learn how to think instead of what to think.  The GE Program’s diverse course offerings develop your capacity for lifetime learning and adaptability to rapidly changing career fields.

Your General Education Program is organized around three categories:

  1. skills in basic communication, mathematics, and foreign language.
  2. disciplinary knowledge in art, the humanities, and the natural and social sciences.
  3. study of the regions of the world.

Below you will learn about how courses are organized into these categories.  In all courses, you will explore content specific knowledge alongside faculty experts.  These courses will build a foundation of knowledge and skills which you will draw upon your entire life.  Your General Education Program can also help you choose a major and will prepare you to specialize in one academic field.


General Education Program Pyramid

A high-quality education must ensure students’ comfort in the use of words and numbers. Our GE requirements serve this basic purpose. You are required to take courses in Math, Basic Communication, and a Foreign Language of your choice.


General Education Category I: Foundational Skills

All modern education must ensure that students can use words and numbers. Our General Education requirements serve this basic purpose. You are required to take one course in Math (MATH), Composition (BCOM), and one or two courses designed to help you achieve an intermediate level of proficiency in a Foreign Language (FLN) of your choice.

+  Math

This course enables you to explore numbers and the perspectives they provide on time and space. You will develop your mathematical knowledge beyond what you learned in high school and apply mathematical approaches in a variety of settings.

Depending on your placement, you can choose from courses that cover areas of mathematics including calculus, algebra, statistics and symbolic logic.

+  Basic Communication

In this course, you will begin to refine your ability to write, speak effectively, and communicate with others. It is impossible to express your knowledge and ideas without these skills. Although you will continue to develop your oral and written skills in your major, this course is an important foundation.

ENG 170: Writing and Rhetoric fulfills the Basic Communication requirement (Not to be taken for credit by students who have completed ENG 180: Composition II).

+  Foreign Language

Language courses are essential for life in a globalized world.  When learning a language, you will develop your ability to read, write, speak, and listen to others while also expanding your understanding of the culture or cultures in which that language is spoken. Your basic training in grammar and syntax will also help you reach the communication goals of GE.  The course or courses you take in Foreign Language will provide you at least an intermediate level proficiency in that language.

SUNY New Paltz offers a variety of foreign language classes at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Options include Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, French, Kiswahili, Japanese, German and American Sign Language.  

General Education Category II:  Exposure to the Disciplines

Our General Education curriculum includes classes in four academic disciplines. These reflect very different ways of knowing. Each discipline has rigorous methods for constructing knowledge that are teachable and can transform your habits of mind. By taking classes in these disciplines, you will come to understand how artists, humanists, natural and social scientists answer questions about the world, the universe, and ourselves.

+  Art

Artistic inquiry engages in creative processes guided by curiosity, scholarship, and imagination. This course introduces you to creative and critical thinking skills and techniques. You will learn how to think, speak, and write about artistic experiences.  Your exposure to artistic knowledge will enable you to learn the social, cultural, and historical contexts from which they emerge.

Options for satisfying the Art category range from art history and criticism, to studio art in multiple media, to music and theatre performance, to explorations of the history of cinema and film.

+  Humanities

The humanities explore individual and group cultural expressions in language, text, or images today or over time. This discipline acknowledges our complexity while developing the tools to understand what we make meaningful and how we express meaning.  In your humanities course, you will analyze works of literature, drama, art, and rituals to determine what they reflect about human experience. The course will enable you to reflect on what it means to be human by exploring individual identities and how they come together in societies, political systems, and cultural behaviors.

A broad array of course offerings fall under the Humanities category, including introductions to philosophy and political science, histories of music and theatre, and critical surveys of literature from cultures all around the world.

+  Natural Science

The natural sciences rely on the scientific method to explain processes in living organisms and in the physical environment. These range from microscopic organisms to the stars and galaxies.  In this class, you will develop hypotheses, observe physical and biological phenomena, and evaluate data to draw conclusions. By learning the scientific method, you will engage in important debates about human interaction with the physical world.

Natural Science covers biology, chemistry, geography, physics and astronomy, and also includes interdisciplinary options in areas like environmental science and evolutionary studies.

+  Social Science

The social sciences explain why and how human beings interact with each other as well as the outcomes of that interaction. Scholars explain behavior by studying economic, cultural, and social interactions, and how they change over space and time. A class in the social sciences may explore values and beliefs, decision-making processes, and social structures to better explain human behavior. This is a broad field of inquiry that relies on both quantitative statistical methods as well as qualitative interpretive methods.

Students have many options to choose from to meet the Social Science requirement, in disciplines such as anthropology, linguistics, economics, psychology, international politics, sociology, communication and media.

General Education Category III: Regions of the World

By studying regions of the world, you will explore questions about identity including who you are and how you may differ from others. The study of the United States, Western Civilization, and World Civilizations will help you become an informed, engaged, and thoughtful citizen of the world.

+  United States Studies

In these courses, you will learn about historical, political, social, economic, and/or cultural developments in the United States. This requirement builds on the basic outline of US history taught in New York State high schools. But rather than learn the “right” answer for a test, you will be expected to ask rigorous and genuine questions, challenge others’ arguments, and develop complex answers. These are skills needed for democratic citizenship.

Courses that fulfill the United States Studies requirement may focus on specific eras of American history, or on broader themes that recur throughout our national discourse. Topics include social inequality, race and racism, government and politics, and education. 

+  Western Civilization

The focus of these courses will be the historical influence of ideas and institutions from “western” traditions on political, social, and religious communities. Courses cover the arts, ideas, cultures, governments, or religions of Europe.  Courses also consider Europe’s impacts on other regions of the world through colonization, trade, or the dissemination of the western tradition.  

Students have options for studying topics from the ancient world and more recent national histories, with special emphases on religion, philosophy, art, literature, film and politics.

+  World Civilizations

These courses may study the histories, cultures, and practices of any non-US, non-European area of the world or take a broad approach to one issue and its impact around the world. You will critically reflect on the cultural and political constructions of different regions of the world. “World Civilizations” courses do not entail a study of difference. By taking one of these courses, you will learn to make links between cultures and develop ideas about what is universal and what is particular in human nature and societies.

The World Civilizations category includes courses dedicated to tracing and understanding historical events through social and cultural lenses such as art, education, philosophy, economics and religion.