Jun 20, 2024  
2016-2017 Undergraduate Catalog 

General Education Requirements

The Progressive Learning in Undergraduate Studies (PLUS) General Education Program at Northern Illinois University provides foundational skills and breadth of knowledge through study in a broad variety of disciplines. Together with course work in the major and co-curricular experiences, general education provides students with opportunities to develop competencies in NIU’s baccalaureate student learning outcomes. The baccalaureate experience at Northern Illinois University challenges students to think critically, create, and communicate by participating in a progressive, engaged learning environment. Major area studies, general education, and co-curricular experiences prepare students to become productive members of a culturally and globally diverse society, and lifelong learners ready to meet the challenges of a dynamic career. See: “The Baccalaureate Experience” for a listing of the baccalaureate outcomes.


The PLUS General Education Program consists of two types of course work.

First, the Foundational Studies courses develop the competencies necessary to succeed academically and personally. They emphasize students’ abilities to: (1) think critically and creatively; (2) reason quantitatively and qualitatively; (3) communicate clearly and effectively; and (4) work collaboratively across disciplines.

Second, Knowledge Domain courses continue to develop foundational competencies, as well as assure exposure to a broad array of ideas, disciplines, and ways of obtaining and interpreting information. The three knowledge domains are Creativity and Critical Analysis, Society and Culture, and Nature and Technology. Knowledge Domain courses emphasize students’ abilities to: (1) connect human life to the natural world; (2) understand and respect diverse cultures; (3) integrate knowledge of global interconnections; and (4) synthesize knowledge and skills.

Knowledge Domain requirements may optionally be fulfilled by a set of PLUS Pathways courses. A Pathway is a body of coursework drawn from all three Knowledge Domains that examines a theme from different disciplinary perspectives. The Pathways take the disciplinary breadth inherent in the Knowledge Domain component of general education, and comprise courses that address a set of common questions. The purpose of a Pathway is to provide coherence and relevance to general education, and allow students to choose a general education experience that aligns with their interests and goals. Pathways will further enhance the level of content integration and will give students and instructors greater opportunities to develop the skill of collaborating effectively across disciplines.

Foundational Studies

Through Foundational Studies, students will begin to develop the fundamental skills of written communication, oral communication, and numeracy, all of which are required for academic, professional, and personal success. Students will learn to: (1) write skillfully with a thorough awareness of context, audience, and purpose; (2) communicate effectively through speaking, presenting, and debating, with an awareness of the specific practices in different disciplines; (3) perform basic numerical computations, display facility with using formal and quantitative reasoning analysis and problem solving, and interpret mathematical models and statistical information; and (4) work collaboratively with peers from different backgrounds.

The Foundational Studies general education requirements consist of two courses in Writing Composition, one course in Oral Communication, and one course in Quantitative Literacy. Foundational Studies courses do not count toward general education Knowledge Domain requirements.

All students must satisfy the Foundational Studies requirements in Writing Composition, Oral Communication, and Quantitative Literacy for 3-12 semester hours of general education credit.

The requirements in the Foundational Studies can be met by completing the designated course, by transfer credit, by passing a competency examination, or, for some Foundation Studies, through credit by examination. (See “Credit by Examination.”) Although passing a competency examination fulfills the requirement for the Foundational Studies, it does not result in the awarding of NIU course credit (i.e., it reduces the required number of general education hours but does not reduce the number of hours required for a degree.) Students with strong academic credentials are encouraged to attempt the competency examinations. Information on competency examinations is available from the Office of Testing Services.

The specific ways to satisfy the Foundational Studies requirements are listed below.

Foundational Studies

Foundational Studies Writing Requirements (0-6)

  • 100-level Rhetoric and Composition (0-3 semester hours). Writing and revising argumentative and analytical essays. This requirement can be satisfied by:
    • Obtaining a grade of C or better in ENGL 103 or an equivalent course, or
    • Obtaining equivalent transfer credit, or
    • Passing the Writing Composition Foundational Studies Competency Examination, or
    • Obtaining credit for ENGL 103 through examination by credit (Advanced Placement).
  • 200-level Writing in the Domains (3 semester hours). Writing and revising argumentative and analytical essays; analyze, evaluate, and synthesize material from a variety of sources; incorporate domain-appropriate writing and rhetorical styles as well as documentation styles. This requirement can be satisfied by:
    • Obtaining a grade of C or better in ENGL 203, ENGL 204, or an equivalent course, or
    • Obtaining equivalent transfer credit.

Foundational Studies Oral Communication Requirements (0-3)

This requirement can be satisfied by:

  • Passing COMS 100, or an equivalent course, or
  • Obtaining equivalent transfer credit, or
  • Passing the Oral Communication Foundational Studies Competency Examination.

Foundational Studies Quantitative Literacy Requirement (0-3)

This requirement can be satisfied by:

  • passing MATH 101 or equivalent course, or
  • obtaining a C or better in MATH 155, MATH 201, MATH 206, MATH 210, MATH 211, or MATH 229, or an equivalent course,
  • obtaining credit for one of the mathematics courses listed above, except MATH 101, through credit by examination (Advanced Placement), or
  • obtaining a grade of C or better in STAT 208, STAT 350, or ISYE 335; and obtaining
    • a grade of C or better in MATH 110, or
    • an ACT mathematics score of at least 24, or
    • an SAT mathematics score of at least 560, or
    • an A- or B-level placement on the mathematics placement examination
  • obtaining equivalent transfer credit, or
  • passing the Mathematics Competency Examination.

Knowledge Domain Requirements and Course Descriptions

There is a required minimum of 21 semester hours in the three General Education Knowledge Domains. The three General Education Knowledge Domains are areas of human endeavor (Creativity and Critical Analysis; Nature and Technology; Society and Culture) and will: (1) help students attain a sound liberal education and acquire sufficient general knowledge and intellectual versatility to become productive and resourceful members of society,  (2) explore human thought and relations in order to understand and respect cultural heritage, (3) provide an understanding of the scientific method and the application of scientific facts and principles pertaining to the natural and technological worlds, and (4) examine the role of knowledge in promoting human welfare.

The required minimum of 21 semester hours in Knowledge Domain studies cannot include more than two courses in any one department. (A course with an affiliated laboratory course shall be counted as a single course.)

A maximum of two approved general education courses in the student’s major department may be used to fulfill general education requirements. (A course with an affiliated laboratory course shall be counted as a single course.)

The 21 general education semester hours required in the three Knowledge Domains can be earned by: (1) successful completion of designated courses; (2) general education credit articulation;  (3) transfer articulation; or (4) credit by examination.

Foundational Studies courses do not count toward general education Knowledge Domain requirements. Any single course cannot count towards fulfilling more than one Knowledge Domain requirement.

Creativity and Critical Analysis (a minimum of 6 semester hours)

Courses in Creativity and Critical Analysis will challenge students to develop the skills involved in critical reflection and creative expression.  Students will:  (1) become acquainted with methods for analyzing primary sources and critically evaluating the ideas, events, traditions, and belief systems that have shaped human experience and expression; (2) explore fundamental modes of aesthetic and creative expression; and (3) understand and evaluate the diversity of humanity’s most notable cultural achievements from artistic, historical, linguistic, literary, and philosophical perspectives.

Nature and Technology (a minimum of 6 semester hours)

Courses in Nature and Technology will develop students’ understanding of the role of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and their relevance to societal issues. This domain encompasses human activities through which we observe, measure, model, and interpret the natural world and physical universe. Courses will explore the process of scientific discovery and how the resulting knowledge is applied to understand technological and societal change. Students will: (1) be able to articulate society’s connections to, and responsibility towards, the natural world; and (2) learn to apply the scientific method, including assessing empirical data, investigating the predictions of existing theories, and developing experimentally testable hypotheses.

Society and Culture (a minimum of 6 semester hours)

Courses in Society and Culture will develop understanding of the methods of inquiry used to study humanity, from individual behavior to how people organize and govern nations, societies, and cultures.  Students will:  (1) learn the role, principles, and methods of social and behavioral science in understanding individual and collective behavior in society; (2) hone the reasoning skills required to understand theories of human behavior and social phenomena; and (3) develop the ability to understand and evaluate the communication of results in the social and behavioral sciences.

Elective from any Knowledge Domain (1 course, a minimum of 3 semester hours)

Knowledge Domain Course Descriptions

Creativity and Critical Analysis Course Descriptions

Nature and Technology Course Descriptions

Society and Culture Course Descriptions


Knowledge Domain requirements may optionally be fulfilled by a set of PLUS Pathways courses. A Pathway is a body of course work drawn from all three Knowledge Domains that examines a theme from different disciplinary perspectives.  Courses in a Pathway coalesce around a set of large questions that are central to the Pathway theme. Each course addresses one or more of these questions. The Foundational Studies courses cannot be counted towards a Pathway. Transfer courses cannot participate in the Pathways. Courses listed in the Pathways taken prior to Fall 2016 cannot count towards a Pathway.

Students have the option to organize their required general education courses into a Pathway Focus, as long as the Knowledge Domain distributional requirements are fulfilled. To earn a Pathways Focus, students must successfully complete three courses from a single Pathway, one course from each Knowledge Domain. Students are still responsible to take additional Knowledge Domain courses to complete their general education requirements.

Creativity, Innovation, and Change

Creativity and innovation are essential for individuals, societies, economies, and organizations to change, prosper, and grow. This Pathway addresses the inception of creative ideas in individuals as well as how innovation and change is experienced and represented by individuals, groups, families, organizations, and/or societies. In the Pathway courses, students will engage with the topics of creativity, innovation, and change in a variety of disciplines across the university–both in terms of the phenomena and their outcomes. Students will examine different types of creativity and innovation at work in groups, organizations, and the minds of individual thinkers. Finally, they’ll develop a better understanding of how change and innovation is enhanced and how it can be inhibited.

Global Connections

The Global Connections Pathway begins with the premise that the world is interconnected and that understanding its peoples, ideas, resources and systems is of vital importance. Students in the Pathway explore the ways in which the world’s cultures interact, and the practices and discourses that have and continue to animate those encounters. The environment itself, its climate and resources are also a valuable part of the Pathway, framing the stage on which humans engage with each other and the natural world. A rich body of work on globalization and its antecedents provides overarching questions across the knowledge domains and help Pathway participants think critically and comparatively about the movement of people, capital, and culture around the world and its impact.

Health and Wellness

Promoting health and wellness allows individuals to improve their lives as well the health of their families and the broader communities within a social context. The Health and Wellness Pathway affords students the opportunity to integrate a broad range of knowledge and skills to promote effective life changes and enhance their well-being, while providing a multidisciplinary base for those who seek careers related to health and wellness. Courses chosen for this Pathway constitute a holistic approach to health and wellness (e.g., physical, environmental, emotional, social, and intellectual). Moreover, this Pathway recognizes that achieving optimal health and wellness is a lifelong and continual process, and that a thorough understanding of the factors that define and determine wellness and improve health is necessary to comprehend the mutual relationship between the mind and the body, take personal and social responsibility for self-improvement, create opportunities for well-being, optimize quality of life, and foster new approaches to address a perpetually changing environment.


The specific processes and circumstances related to learning vary with cultural, historical, sociological and individual factors, making the area of learning a richly diverse and interdisciplinary field with many methodological perspectives, emphases and applications. The study of learning offers applications to personal, societal and professional areas of life. Students learn about the way in which learning is influenced by context, how to improve it, and how to assess its effectiveness. The study of learning also pertains to informed citizenship, which requires development of the ability to use information to think about an issue critically, from multiple perspectives and with an understanding of diverse methodological approaches. Students in the Learning Pathway will become aware of a framework of understanding that not only encompasses their own disciplines, but begins to include other methodologies into their schema of understanding. This will help students to not only become more flexible in their approaches to problem solving but more accepting of other ideas and conventions of thought. This Pathway intentionally draws from several diverse disciplines to attempt to challenge students’ comfort and their methodologies, examining common issues and ideas that appear in several fields, allowing them to see the problem as a multifaceted way as opposed to a two-dimensional object.

Origins and Influences

The Origins and Influences Pathway considers a timeless question: how has the past shaped the present? By studying this question students will expand their understanding of who we are–as individuals, as members of societies, and as participants in the human condition. This Pathway considers the broader context of human society and culture, the relationship of people to nature and technology, and the broad array of human endeavors in creativity and critical thought. It takes the long view of the human past reaching back to the origins of the planet and the development of humans as a species. At the same time, it looks forward to such contemporary matters as race, gender, and sexuality in modern society. Courses in the Origins and Influences Pathway explore the ways in which humans have constructed their economic, social, and political orders, and they give vital attention to the central place of literature, music, and the performing arts in the human experience. Across a wide variety of courses and programs, students will gain diverse perspectives on the multiple ways in which the past has shaped our world.

Social Justice and Diversity

The prosperity of a diverse society demands that its citizens be able to contribute to public discourse and policymaking in an educated and thoughtful manner. The Social Justice and Diversity Pathway is designed to do the following: provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to be prepared for active and responsible engagement in social decision-making; to unite people of different social identities; to create and sustain social and political processes; and to support a just and equitable society. This Pathway recognizes that public issue decisions need to be tied to facts, a fully developed personal sense of social justice, individuals’ understanding of their identities and their connection to the larger social context. This Pathway also guides students toward an understanding of the political and economic mechanisms that guide the policy process. The courses chosen for this Pathway address one or more of these elements and were chosen to provide students with a knowledge base that will prepare them for a lifetime of informed engagement in a diverse society. This Pathway provides the opportunity for students to develop the skills, values, and personal understanding to become leaders in our globalized society.


Many have defined sustainability as economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Others stress the value of social justice with intergenerational equity and respect for the planet and all of its occupants. The Sustainability Pathway investigates both fiscal and environmental sustainability through economic and societal activities. People, technology, and natural processes will be critical elements in achieving more sustainable societies with environmental justice, with both costs and benefits being collective. Sustainability studies are relevant to a wide array of disciplines because sustainable behaviors must flow from knowledgeable, participatory citizens with an intergenerational awareness of the connections, and interdependencies among equitable societies, vital economies, human innovation, and goods and services. This Pathway is designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop sustainable choices over the course of their lives and professional careers.