Is the Mason Core Different From NOVA?


Like many people at Mason, I first went to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). It provided a way for me to take introductory courses like the ones Mason offers, but at a lower price. Having a cheaper substitute for university isn’t a bad thing, but I believe that the Mason Core should offer more than a community college curriculum.

I had a professor that emphasized the concept of value added. Everything I wrote had to add some value to the topic we were discussing. In this vein, I ask: What value does the Mason Core add?

Right now, it doesn’t add anything that you couldn’t get at a community college.

At NOVA, I had professors that taught at both institutions. Students who are paying more to take core courses at Mason should get something more than a redressed community college course.

Taking classes at NOVA was quite banal. Students would joke that it was just high school plus. You’d get up, commute to school, take your introductory classes and leave feeling none the wiser. The assumption was that these classes would build a foundation for when you transferred to university. After all, that’s the pitch for community college. A pared-back experience for a lower price.

Comparing that to the Mason Core, there isn’t much difference. Sure, Mason has more to offer in terms of registered student organizations (RSO) and “campus life,” but with classes, they’re hard to distinguish from each other.

The Mason Core can distinguish itself from its competition by offering something NOVA can’t: memorability. Around a year ago, I argued that one of the benefits of university was the experiences that come with it. Currently, the Mason Core doesn’t offer any of those experiences. How many of you can actually recall something memorable about the Mason Core? It can’t be a good professor or new friends that you met because you could get those in any class. Can you name something about the classes themselves? Most of you probably can’t.

The problem with Mason Core classes is that many of them are intro-level courses, designed to be built upon in later courses. This is supposed to allow students to explore different fields of study, but they turn out to be a laundry list of prerequisites that you have to get through before you learn about what you really want to study. Those courses that were designed to be built upon end up being stranded. Foundations don’t do a whole lot of good if you never build houses on them.

The Mason Core should be designed so that students want to take it. It should be designed as its own unique curriculum rather than being a carbon copy of its community college competition. That way, prospective students are offered more of a choice than just Mason and its cheaper substitute.

The Mason Core should be a way to introduce freshmen to the college experience instead of being a hurdle to clear. If the Mason Core were redesigned in such a way, I believe it would go a long way to attract and retain new students.

This essay is part of Fourth Estate’s special opinion section on the Mason Core curriculum from the Feb. 24, 2020 issue. Check out the lead essay here, which includes links to all the other essays.