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In education, a core curriculum is a curriculum, or course of study, which is deemed central and usually made mandatory for all students of a school or school system. Core curricula are often instituted, at the primary and secondary levels, by school boards, Departments of Education, or other administrative agencies charged with overseeing education. At the undergraduate level, individual college and university administrations and faculties sometimes mandate core curricula, especially in the liberal arts. But because of increasing specialization and depth in the student's major field of study, a typical core curriculum in higher education mandates a far smaller proportion of a student's course work than a high school or elementary school core curriculum prescribes.
One of the best known core curricula amongst American universities and colleges is the Columbia College Core Curriculum. It comprises the highest number of courses of any core curriculum of an Ivy League university, and has been modified very infrequently since its inception in 1919. It includes foundational courses in Western literature, art, music and philosophy; in language, science and writing; and in non-Western culture.
May educational institutions are currently trying to balance two opposing forces: On the one hand, teachers wish to require students to have a common knowledge foundation, often in the form of a core curriculum; on the other hand, teachers want students to able to pursue their own educational interests through free choice of courses. This debate can be seen in Harvard's changes to its core curriculum.