By AHMED KHOKAR
According to a report by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, tuition rates will continue to increase by 6 percent, easily outpacing inflation rates.
This is particularly problematic because according to the Institute for College Access and Success, the value of college degrees is declining, the job market is as competitive as ever and student debt is at an all-time high at 1.2 trillion dollars.
For instance, tuition at the University of Mary Washington has increased by over $1,000 per semester since 2011. So, while politicians, administrators, lobbyists and consultants bicker about the most effective financial models, students are crippled with debt for decades beyond their college experience.
To add insult to injury, many higher education institutions have a myriad of general education requirements. Not only are students paying more for degrees that are less valuable, but they are also required to spend a significant portion of their time, money and energy into courses that they may not want or need to take.
Eliminating general education requirements would ease the burden on students significantly. It could potentially decrease tuition and the time spent in school, as well as help students focus more on hands on experiences.
At first glance, general education requirements look reasonable. Students should be getting out of their comfort zones and taking a few classes to explore their interests. However, in practice, students often have negative experiences with their general education requirements.
According to a report titled, “What do College Students Think about General Education and Assessment” by James Madison University, both students and professors had a low perceived value for general education courses. Students do not like taking these courses, and the professors do not like teaching them.
With the student population growing year after year, getting into classes that interest you while still fulfilling requirements becomes more difficult. Students are often left with limited options, which make positive experiences less likely.
At UMW, the general requirements include up to 20 courses, or 60 credits. That is about half of the overall credits required to graduate. These requirements range anywhere from intermediate foreign language mastery to quantitative reasoning. They become more manageable if students take courses that fulfill multiple requirements, but they still demand a significant portion of the typical student’s time at UMW.
However, we cannot deny that, for some students, general education requirements can be helpful in exploring various career paths. VIEWz
“The gen-eds can be good if you do not know what you want to do,” said Janelle Pierangelino, a junior at UMW double majoring in creative writing and communications.
However, students who have a general idea of what they want to study are given the short end of the stick.
“The gen-eds can slow you down when you’re trying to get into your major,” Pierangelino said. If students know what they want to study, they should be able to dive right in without the burden and additional stress of general education requirements.
“Reducing or getting rid of general education requirements would allow you to not be as stressed about each class. By having to take so many courses, it takes away from the enjoyment of each one,” said Pierangelino.
Not only would eliminating these requirements make the courses themselves more enjoyable, but it would also remove much of the stress from the scheduling and planning process. Students will be more enthusiastic about courses they choose rather than courses they are forced to take.
To accommodate students who are undecided about what to study, institutions could offer an optional minor, which would include some of the basic general education requirements. This would allow students to explore if they choose to, and it would also offer more variety and depth for students who want to specialize right away.
For students who choose not to incorporate this minor into their studies, it would potentially lower tuition through early graduation. Moreover, it would allow a smoother transition into graduate programs.
And, most of all, it would allow more time for students to work with faculty members through undergraduate research. The potential benefits are numerous. Institutions need to give the choice back to students. Surely, students should be trusted with this choice more than consultants and administrators who are more concerned about marketing rhetoric than the day to day experience of students.