50th Anniversary of Individualized Major Program

Back in 1974, a handful of undergraduates created and declared "Individualized Majors" for the first time in UConn's history. Two years later, in 1976, that first cohort graduated with self-designed, innovative majors like "Urban Systems and Design," "East Asian Studies," "Human Behavior," and more. In honor of those pioneering majors, as well as all the students, faculty, and staff who have contributed to the program ever since, the Individualized Major Program is excited to celebrate "Fifty Years of Student-Driven Innovation!"

Like its counterparts across the country, UConn's Individualized Major Program draws on a progressive educational tradition rooted in the ideas of John Dewey (1859-1952) and others. Its creation builds on an earlier era of educational innovation in higher education in the 1930s and coincides with the emergence of similar educational experiments in the US in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Late 1960s/early 1970s: Curricular Innovation is in the Air

In the 1960s and early 1970s, student activism and growing interdisciplinary interests among the faculty set the stage for curricular innovation.

The University established a number of interdisciplinary centers and institutes during the 1960s and early 1970s, including the Institute for Urban Studies in 1963, the Institute for International and Intercultural Studies in 1966, the Center for Black Studies in 1970, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Women’s Studies Program in 1974.

In 1967, the Special Committee to Investigate the Curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Stern-Smith committee) issued an interim report and noted, “for many kinds of students substantial changes in the organization and conditions of instruction and study are demanded in our college.”[1]

UConn’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) focused especially on ending the Vietnam War, but it also took an interest in the content of education. At a meeting in Fall 1968, with more than 100 students in attendance, UConn’s SDS set its goals for the coming year. These included the establishment of a “free university” that would teach courses on non-traditional topics.[2]

In Spring 1969, a group of students came together to create the Experimental College, which offered short, non-credit courses open to all and led by students and community members.

Also in Spring 1969, another alternative learning option was proposed, this one embedded within the university. The idea of creating an Inner College (IC) emerged during discussion in a course on social and political philosophy taught by Prof. Len Krimerman.

The University administration approved the Inner College as a one-year experiment starting in 1969-70. The IC began with about 40 students and faculty. A defining feature of the IC was that each student would take primary responsibility for their education and be guided in this task by faculty advisors. Independent studies, field experiences, and integrative workshops were key learning opportunities for students in the IC. During this first year, the Inner College applied for and received a $128,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The IC proposed a three-year extension of the experiment to which the university administration agreed. In Oct. 1970, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences agreed to act as host for the IC and grant degrees to qualified IC seniors.

In Spring 1973, the Inner College was reviewed. Based on this review, the Supervisory Committee of the Inner College Experiment recommended the founding of a Center for Educational Innovation and the creation of an individualized major option.

More on the Experimental College

Funded by the student government, the EC provided an alternative to the structures of formal education. EC leaders explained their perspective: “There are no grades, no mandatory attendance, and no requirements. The EC is learning for the sake of learning.”[3] Interest was strong with as many as 30-70 courses offered each semester. The EC operated until 1978-79.[4] Over the years, it offered courses on a wide range of topics from “Volkswagen Repair” to “American Cinema” to “Existentialism in Japanese Literature” to “Indian Classical Dance.” Among its most controversial courses was a summer offering in 1977 on “Marijuana Growing,” renamed “Marijuana Awareness.” The EC also sponsored a regular film series, published news and creative writing in its catalog, and collaborated with the Inner College (see below), the Women’s Center, and WHUS (the UConn radio station). [5]

More on the Inner College and the Inner College Review in 1973

In defining itself, the Inner College noted: “What is central to the IC is not of our invention: that authority and hierarchy do not aid but hinder the authentic search for knowledge, that what is learned by one’s own initiative and at one’s own pace is learned best, and that creativity and critical judgment need to be nourished but should not be controlled by fear or reward.”[6]

The Inner College became a place of innovation at UConn. It offered courses not part of the regular curriculum, such as “American Anti-War Literature,” “Corporate Finance,” and “Dance and Movement.” Among its activities were multi-day “festivals” such as Chrysalis: Festival of Alternatives in Education (Dec. 1970) and Phoenix: Festival of Contemporary Culture and Society (Feb. 1971). It collaborated with and supported a number of other campus initiatives. For example, it joined forces with the Office of Placement and Career Planning to create the New Vocations Center to help make students aware of “socially meaningful and personally fulfilling” vocations. When the UConn Free Press was founded in Fall 1969, the group’s office was located in the basement of the Inner College house on Route 195. The Inner College trailer in R Lot, where the IC was located, served as a meeting place for, among others, the Gay Liberation (later the UConn Gay Alliance) and Women’s Liberation campus groups.  The Inner College remained a key innovative force at UConn for almost seven years.[7]

The Inner College Review in 1973:

Among the reviewers were faculty involved in educational innovation at other universities such as the College Within at Tufts University and Livingston College at Rutgers. Students interviewed about their experience noted:

  • “Once I got into the Inner College the learning responsibility was on me… I was much more responsible, and this really excited me.”
  • “The Inner College has given me the freedom to choose the courses I wanted to take, plus it has given me the attitude going into courses to know what I wanted to learn…”

Based on the reviews, the Supervisory Committee of the Inner College Experiment noted “that the Inner College Experiment has

(1) effectively met the needs of most of the students who participated in it,
(2) lately shown signs of increased development and vitality, and
(3) initiated a variety of innovative programs that deserve to be made more generally available to University students.”

It expressed concerns that the Inner College had been hampered by trying “to accommodate too wide a spectrum of innovative demands.”

The Supervisory Committee recommended the creation of a Center for Innovative Studies to coordinate diverse innovative initiatives. It also recommended that such a Center should apply to the Board of Trustees for a new degree—a bachelor’s degree with an individual concentration.[8]

Read Len Krimerman’s 2019 reflections on the Inner College

Listen to the WHUS d’Archive Podcast Episode 47: Inner College, produced on Dec. 7, 2022.

IC Reunion (2022) with Len Krimerman, Elena Stone and Marian Vitali
From right, Inner College (IC) co-founder Len Krimerman, IC alumnae Elena Stone, and Krimerman's wife, Marian Vitali at IC reunion on Aug. 6, 2022. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)



1973-74 to the 1980s: Innovation Acquires an Institutional Home

The Center for Educational Innovation was established in 1973. Among its responsibilities were administering the Individualized Major Program of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Individualized Major Program carried on some of the practices of the Inner College. For example, it emphasized experiential learning and required each student to have a committee of faculty mentors. The Individualized Major Program, however, was more structured than the Inner College and relied mainly on regular course offerings, even as it had a more liberal policy toward the inclusion of independent studies than other majors.

Growth in numbers and themes

The Individualized Major Program grew rapidly, from 5 students in 1973-74 to over 100 students by 1979-80. Early on, students were especially interested in themes such as media and counseling. These remained popular, but by the early 1980s, an increasing number of students included a substantial business component in their majors. International majors, such as international relations, international trade, and area studies, grew in popularity. Majors focused on health were not uncommon.

Faculty in emerging academic areas encouraged students to create majors through the Individualized Major Program. During the 1970s and 1980s, Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies, Judaic Studies, and Peace Studies advertised this opportunity and attracted numerous majors. In 1981-82, Latin American Studies began to be offered as a formal major, perhaps the first formal interdisciplinary major with roots in the Individualized Major Program.

Other individualized major titles from this period reflected a wide range of interests:

    • Numerical Applications & Information Systems
    • Mysticism
    • Labor Relations
    • Consumer Psychology
    • Daycare and Alternative Education
    • Environmental Design
    • Public Affairs
    • Technology and Law
    • Theoretical & Comparative Linguistics

More on the Center for Educational Innovation

The Center for Educational Innovation had several other responsibilities besides the administration of the Individualized Major Program:

1) to coordinate information regarding innovative and experimental courses already available on campus, including urban semester, study abroad and independent study projects;
2) to receive proposals from students and faculty for such courses or projects as lie outside the scope or interest of individual departments;
3) to carry out a teaching improvement program.[9]

Charles McLaughlin, Professor of English was the Director of the Center for its first ten years. McLaughlin had served on the Inner College Supervisory Committee and had taught at least one Inner College course on Mixed Media.

The 1990s: Institutional Shifts

In Jan. 1990, in response to state budget cuts, UConn closed the Center for Educational Innovation as a cost-cutting measure.[10] The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Advising Center took on advising for the Individualized Major Program. The Program was housed there until 1998 when it became the central activity of a new unit, the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Major themes and new majors

In 1990-91, Women’s Studies, an area that students had pursued as an individualized major since the mid-1970s, was first offered as a formal major. In the 1990s, the most popular major themes were international trade and other international majors focused on Europe and Asia; criminal justice; and consumer behavior. Environmental studies, health studies, Judaic studies and peace studies also attracted consistent interest. Other major titles from this decade included:

    • Native American Studies
    • African American Studies
    • Art as Non-Verbal Communication
    • Human Resources
    • Oceanography
    • Medieval Studies
    • Photojournalism
    • Publishing

The 2000s: Expansion to Other Schools/Colleges

The creation in 1998-99 of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, later renamed the Individualized and Interdisciplinary Studies Program (part of a broader unit reporting to the Provost’s office), provided an institutional structure for the expansion of the Individualized Major Program to other schools and colleges within the University.

  • In 2000-01, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the School of Family Studies began to offer an individualized major.
  • In 2001-02, the School of Allied Health began to offer an individualized major.

In 2007-08, the School of Family Studies was integrated into CLAS, and the School of Allied Health merged with CANR. The individualized major was now offered in two colleges, CLAS and CAHNR. Though the major was limited to those two colleges, in any given year, approximately 190 faculty from all across the University participated in the program as advisors to students.

Student numbers peak and new requirements are introduced

The number of students in the Individualized Major Program peaked in the early 2000s with approximately 200 students in the program and over 90 graduates per year.

As the University prepared to introduce revised general education requirements that included information literacy competency and writing in the major, the Individualized Major Program:

  • added a capstone course/thesis requirement in 2004-05 and
  • added a research methods requirement in 2005-06.

These added requirements and an emphasis on applying earlier in one’s college career brought student numbers back to about 160 students and 60 graduates per year.

Major themes and the creation of additional interdisciplinary majors

From the early 2000s to 2010, 20-25 percent of individualized majors pursued international studies. Other popular areas included sport, crime and justice, and consumer behavior. Students created majors on many other themes including environmental studies and human rights. Other topics were pursued as well:

    • Marine Chemistry
    • Animatronics
    • Human Sexuality Studies
    • American Sign Language and Deaf Culture
    • Religious Studies
    • Film Studies
    • Animal Husbandry and Wildlife Ecology

The pace of approval of new interdisciplinary majors increased:

  • In 2003-04: Cognitive Science
  • In 2004-05: American Studies
  • In 2009-10: African American Studies

The 2010s and 20s: Continuing to Nurture Student Initiative

Introduction of the gateway course

In 2013, the Program launched a one-credit gateway course to provide students with a structured opportunity to explore disciplines and interdisciplinarity and prepare robust major proposals.

Major themes and still more new interdisciplinary majors

From 2015, health-themed majors grew to constitute 25-30 percent of individualized majors. Understanding the social, political, and economic context of health and preparing for a career in the health professions were key reasons students pursued health-themed majors. The growth of new media led students to explore the intersection of film, photography, design, storytelling, persuasion, human-computer interaction, and entrepreneurship. With the growth of data science, the Statistics Department piloted a major through the Individualized Major Program. Fields like neuroscience, biochemistry, and global studies continued to find a home in the Individualized Major Program -- as did less common areas:

    • Aquaculture and Fisheries
    • Equine Business Management
    • Disability Studies
    • Art, Globalization, and Activism
    • Sustainable Urban Design
    • Speculative Fiction for Young Audiences

Additional interdisciplinary majors initially pursued through the Individualized Major were approved:

  • In 2012-13: Human Rights
  • In 2013-14: Environmental Studies
  • In 2016-17: Judaic Studies
  • In 2020-21: American Sign Language
  • In 2023-24: Data Science

Looking Back on Fifty Years

Some of the more radical elements of the Inner College experiment such as the elimination of grades and the creation of a self-governing educational community never gained a permanent foothold. Other aspects of the innovative spirit of the late 1960s and early 1970s have persisted and are now institutionalized in the Individualized Major Program: the emphasis on student initiative, cross-disciplinary study, experiential learning, and holistic advising.


[1] Cited in “Inner College Self-Definition,” 11/21/69, Inner College Folder, Lewis Katz Papers, Box 5, University of Connecticut Archives.

[2] Bruce M. Stave, Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2006), p. 128.

[3] Ellen Miller, treasurer of the EC quoted in “WHUS-FH Radio Interview with the Experimental College,” Experimental College, Fall Semester 1971, Experimental College Catalogs, University of Connecticut Archives http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:860413201

[4] The last mention of the Experimental College in the Connecticut Daily Campus, appears to be in May 1979 when it is announced that it will no longer have space in the Student Union for the coming academic year.

[5] See the Experimental College electronic documents, University of Connecticut Archives http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:860413201

[6] No Author, “Inner College Self-Definition,” 11/21/69, Inner College Folder, Lewis Katz Papers, Box 5, University of Connecticut Archives.

[7] See the Inner College electronic documents, University of Connecticut Archives http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:860413225

[8] Final Report and Recommendations of the Supervisory Committee of the Inner College Experiment, submitted to the Scholastic Standards Committee of the University Senate, Feb. 28, 1973 included in the electronic documents on the Inner College, University of Connecticut Archives. http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:860413225

[9] From the University of Connecticut catalogs of that period. An incomplete set of reports from the Center for Educational Innovation are available in the University of Connecticut Archives.

[10] The closing of the Center is covered in the Daily Campus (Vol. 93 #53, Nov. 28, 1989; Vol. 93 #61 Jan. 24, 1990; Vol. 93 #68 Feb. 1, 1990; Vol. 93 #71, Feb. 6, 1990) as well as the Hartford Courant (Jan 12, 1990 p.D11A; Feb. 6, 1990, p.C6E) and the New York Times (Jan 14, 1990, p. 31).