Index > Why Business Courses Don’t Count Towards Liberal Arts Credits

Why Business Courses Don’t Count Towards Liberal Arts Credits

Many students at RISD plan to go into the business of art and design after graduating from RISD, and to prepare for that goal there is often an interest and desire to take one or more courses in business as part of their professional preparation. Liberal Arts fully supports such student aspirations. However, for several reasons, business courses cannot count towards satisfying the RISD Liberal Arts graduation requirements.

First, our stated policy is that methods and practicum business courses are not considered part of the Liberal Arts curriculum. We accept most* courses in economics (which is a social science) and courses about business if they are taught from a humanities or social science point of view, e.g. the sociology of business, the history of business, business ethics. However, courses that focus on accounting, finance, business plans, management, entrepreneurship, etc. are not liberal arts. Here's the full statement of our policy:

Credits in Liberal Arts are granted for courses in the humanities (history, art history and criticism, literary studies and writing, classics, philosophy, religious studies, theater studies, performance studies); the natural sciences; foreign languages; mathematics and computer science; and the social sciences (anthropology, economics, geography, political science, psychology, sociology, etc.), as well as for interdisciplinary courses involving any of those disciplines (e.g., area studies, women's studies). Among courses not considered part of the Liberal Arts curriculum are courses in athletics, dance, instruction in musical instruments and/or musical performance, methods and practicum courses in education, business and secretarial training, computer applications, extra-curricular activities, and work or "life" experiences. Courses in education and business are acceptable if they are taught from a humanities or social science point of view. Non-visual art studio courses (e.g., music, dance) and academic courses not satisfying the above can now be counted as "non-major electives." See your department head for permission. One Liberal Arts course is equivalent to three credits.

Second, our policy is in accord with the generally accepted conception of liberal arts as a field of study. For example, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'liberal arts' like this:

1. the medieval studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium
2. college or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.

Business courses belong in the area of a "professional" curriculum; they are not usually considered part of the general knowledge that makes up the liberal arts, which includes the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In a typical curriculum for a business major or in business school, the business curriculum is distinguished from the liberal studies curriculum. The purpose of the Liberal Arts requirements at RISD is to ensure that all RISD students graduate with some exposure to writing, critical thinking, literature, history of art and visual culture, and one or more of history, philosophy, and the social sciences. If we allow you to count a business course towards the liberal requirements, that will be one less course in one of the liberal arts disciplines that you will be taking.

Third, RISD's conception of Liberal Arts requirements is, in part, in response to "standards" established by the accreditation agency that accredits RISD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). NASAD requires that all students graduating with a professional undergraduate degree in art or design graduate with:

  • competency in their area of specialization (major)
  • a common body of knowledge and skills in art and design, which includes Art/Design History, Theory, and Criticism, and
  • knowledge and skills in General Studies, specifically
    • The ability to think, speak, and write clearly and effectively, and to communicate with precision, cogency, and rhetorical force.
    • An informed acquaintance with the mathematical and experimental methods of the physical and biological sciences and with the main forms of analysis and the historical and quantitative techniques needed for investigating the workings and developments of modern society.
    • An ability to address culture and history from a variety of perspectives.
    • Understanding of, and experience in thinking about, moral and ethical problems.
    • The ability to respect, understand, and evaluate work in a variety of disciplines.
    • The capacity to explain and defend views effectively and rationally.
    • Understanding of and experience in art forms other than the visual arts and design.

Each of these competency areas are assigned a certain percentage of the student's overall program. Basically, the percentages break down like this:

Academic Area NASAD % Requirements NASAD Credit Requirements (based on 120 total) RISD Credit Requirements
major requirements 25 - 35% 30 - 42 typically 54 credits
supportive art & design (e.g. Experimental and Foundation Studies 20 - 30% 24 - 36 typically 18 credits EFS + 12 credits NMSE = 30 total
liberal arts 35 - 50% 42 - 60 42
art & design history 10 - 15% 12 - 18 12
general studies 25 - 35% 30 - 42 9 in LAS and 9 in HPSS + 12 additional credits in either art & design history or general studies

Note that, with its requirement of 42 liberal arts credits, the RISD requirements are at the minimum of what NASAD recommends.


If a business course can't count as Liberal Arts, where can it fit in my RISD plan of study? Business courses can be taken under the heading of NMSE. Although the label for this category is Non-Major Studio Elective, it is specifically defined in the Course Announcement book to include non-studio courses: "Typically, studio courses taken outside of one's major. However, up to six of the twelve credits may be in nonmajor electives that are neither Liberal Arts nor visual art or design studio, such as engineering or music or drama. Students must get the approval of their department head before registering for a course in the latter category." (p. 12 Course Announcement Book 2012-2013)

It is also possible to graduate (and many students do) with more than the required 126 credits by taking two courses each Wintersession or extra courses in the summer. That will allow room for taking one or more business courses.

Talk to your major advisor about how to fit these important courses in your RISD plan of study, either as one of your major courses or as a non-major elective.

*Brown courses not accepted as Liberal Arts: Economics 0710 Financial Accounting, Engineering 0090 Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations, Engineering 1010 The Entrepreneurial Process: Innovation in Practice.