Area D Guidelines (GE 2020)

In the sections that follow, you will see the specific learning goals for each area. Together, we refer to these requirements as "Guidelines."

  • Generally speaking, "Educational Objectives" refer to what students will learn by completing that sub area while "Criteria" refer to how the course is designed to support that learning.

General Education Subject Area Guidelines

The General Education (GE) program is compliant with CSU requirements and is uniquely tailored to our comprehensive polytechnic education. At Cal Poly all curriculum, including General Education curriculum, is designed and taught by faculty with appropriate training and disciplinary expertise. Educational objectives are expectations for student learning, achievement of which can be periodically assessed. Course criteria are expectations for course design that will be used in the consideration of the course proposal, course modifications, and course renewal. Educational objectives and course criteria for General Education subject areas are included below. General Education class instruction includes the opportunity for skill acquisition, development, evaluation, and self-reflection.



Lower-Division D: Social Science — Educational Objectives

D1: American Institutions — Criteria

D2: Lower-Division D — Criteria

Upper-Division D


To see the unit requirements for Area D, click here to view the GE template.

Click here to see a list of currently approved courses for Area D.


Source: AS-889-20 "Resolution on Subject Area Guidelines (II) for General Education 2020" (pdf).


Area D provides students with an understanding of how social, political, and economic institutions and behaviors are historically and inextricably interwoven. Students learn, via social scientific inquiry, how the human experience is shaped by broad societal and cultural traditions and structures as well as by individual factors. Courses in this area also emphasize writing as an integral part of the process of learning and discovery. Courses that emphasize skills development and professional preparation are excluded from Area D. Lower-division courses provide a broad foundation for in depth experiences in upper-division courses.

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Lower-Division D: Social Science — Educational Objectives

Upon completion of a qualifying lower-division D course, students should be able to meet five or more of the following eight educational objectives:

  • EO1 Describe how communities have historically grouped together;
  • EO2 Describe how groups and individuals develop social, economic, political, and legal institutions and relationships that are important for themselves as individuals and the welfare of their communities;
  • EO3 Provide examples of the origins and meaning of the public order, commerce, and social institutions;
  • EO4 Interpret the histories of western and non-western societies in a cross-cultural, global perspective and recognize the growing interdependence of the global community;
  • EO5 Analyze the ways that social, political, and economic institutions and human behavior are interconnected;
  • EO6 Examine the human experience in comparative terms through an understanding of the diversity of experience from both individual and group perspectives with special attention to the issues of diversity such as gender, ethnicity, and race;
  • EO7 Examine the structural relationships between diversity, inequality, and social, economic, and/or political power;
  • EO8 Examine the contributions of the extant literature and research methodologies related to the study of social, economic, political, and/or legal issues in a global society.


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D1: American Institutions — Criteria

Criteria for courses that meet the American Institutions and 40404 requirement

In addition to meeting five or more of the eight educational objectives for lower-division Area D, the course proposal and expanded course outline for courses in American Institutions and 40404 must clearly indicate how the course meets all of the following criteria:

  • CR1 Address significant events covering a minimum time span of approximately one hundred years and occurring in the entire area now included in the United States of America, including the relationships of regions within that area and with external regions and powers as appropriate to the understanding of those events within the United States during the period under study;
  • CR2 Incorporate the role of major ethnic and social groups in such events and the contexts in which the events have occurred;
  • CR3 Cover the events presented within a framework that illustrates the continuity of the American experience and its derivation from other cultures, including consideration of three or more of the following: politics, economics, social movements, and geography;
  • CR4 Incorporate the political philosophies of the framers of the Constitution and the nature and operation of United States political institutions and processes under that Constitution as amended and interpreted;
  • CR5 Highlight the rights and obligations of citizens in the political system established under the Constitution;
  • CR6 Include the Constitution of the state of California within the framework of evolution of federal-state relations and the nature and processes of state and local government under that Constitution;
  • CR7 Explore the contemporary relationships of state and local government with the federal government, the resolution of conflicts and the establishment of cooperative processes under the constitutions of both the state and nation, and the political processes involved;
  • CR8 Require disciplinary appropriate writing assignments that comprise at least 10% of overall course grade.

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D2: Lower-Division — Criteria


The course proposal and expanded outline for lower-division Area D courses must clearly indicate how they meet all of these criteria:

  • CR1 Address the origins, structures, functions, patterns of change, and integration of basic human social institutions (for example, family, government, economy, education, and/or religion);
  • CR2 Include relevant research methodologies;
  • CR3 Explore social phenomena from non-western, cross-cultural, comparative, and/or global perspectives;
  • CR4 Examine cultural and/or social diversity, including the drivers of ethnic, gender, and class-based inequality;
  • CR5 Apply theory to practical current issues;
  • CR6 Require disciplinary appropriate writing assignments that comprise at least 10% of overall course grade.

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Upper-Division D: Social Sciences

Courses must be integrative in nature, requiring application and generalization of knowledge and understanding from foundation Area D courses to the advanced study of a subject or to new, but related, areas of inquiry. These courses may be interdisciplinary in nature and should focus on achieving depth rather than breadth. Courses in this area also emphasize writing as an integral part of the process of learning and discovery. Attention to issues of gender and diversity is encouraged. Courses require the completion of two lower-division Area D.

Upper-Division D — Educational Objectives

Upon completion of a qualifying upper-division D course, students should be able to:

  • EO1 Examine problems and issues from their respective disciplinary perspectives;
  • EO2 Develop reasoned, logical, evidence-based arguments that expand upon lower-division Area D coursework;
  • EO3 Explain how human, social, political, and economic institutions and individual behavior are inextricably interwoven;
  • EO4 Examine issues in their contemporary as well as historical settings and in a variety of cultural contexts;
  • EO5 Examine how relationships between two or more areas of study inform our perspectives.


Upper-Division D — Criteria

The course proposal and expanded course outline for courses in Upper-Division D must clearly indicate how the course meets all of the following criteria:

  • CR1 Enrollment prerequisites list completion of Areas A1 Oral Communication, A2 Written Communication, and A3 Critical Thinking, and B4 Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning as pursuant to EO1100 Revised (section 2.2.3) and a Lower-Division D course; some courses will require additional pre-requisites as course content dictates;
  • CR2 Apply knowledge acquired in lower-division Area D courses to the advanced study of self and society;
  • CR3 Include relevant principles, methodologies, value systems and ethics employed in social scientific inquiry;
  • CR4 Examine the impact of social, economic, political, legal, and/or commercial institutions on individuals, societies in the U.S. and/or international contexts, including inequities in treatment of diverse and/or underrepresented¹ groups;
  • CR5 Meet all other criteria for GE writing-intensive courses (GE Writing Intensive Requirements).


¹ By “diverse” we intend the definition of diversity found in the Cal Poly Statement on Diversity and Inclusivity ( By “underrepresented groups” is intended groups who are currently underrepresented and historically marginalized groups.


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