By JESSICA LINK
College is often promoted as being the perfect place to find yourself and figure out what you love to do. General education requirements are typically a way for students to dabble in subjects they normally wouldn’t consider and find out if they love it or hate it. On the surface, general requirements seem great for every college to have, but looking deeper, are they really worth it or just a waste of time?
In high school, we all had classes that were required in order to graduate, like completing certain levels of math, science, foreign language, and English. These varieties of subjects usually produce well-rounded students who then move on from high school with a general understanding of where their academic strengths and weaknesses lie.
For example, after struggling through the required years of math in high school, in addition to a few extra classes to buff up my transcript, I realized that I’m naturally bad at math. Now that I am in college, I find myself facing the prospect of struggling through two more math classes, even more advanced than I those I took in high school, just because UMW requires students to complete six Quantitative Reasoning credits. I want to go to law school, not become a mathematician. These classes will only add unnecessary stress and possibly poor grades to my transcript.
Gen Eds that don’t contribute to a student’s desired career field – or even in similarly related fields – can be seen as an expensive and frustrating waste of time, especially given the fact that it takes away from time that could be spent in classes that students are highly interested in.
Sasha Kelley states that gen eds “can add stress” and specifically resents the foreign language requirement.
“I would rather focus on other classes that are more important,” said Kelley.
In favor of general education, there is definitely something to be said for branching out and considering new subjects. Kelly Evans freshman at Mary Washington says, “I enjoy how gen eds allow us to explore, however I feel the required foreign language takes away from that.”
There could be a new approach to general education that hasn’t been looked at by the university yet. Would it be plausible for different majors to have different gen ed requirements? Or possibly provide interdisciplinary classes that meet requirements but can broadly be applied to many majors and career fields?
A good example of an alternative gen ed program can be seen at the City University of New York. According to the university’s website, students have three options when it comes to required classes. First, they can choose to take the “common core” which is a standard gen ed program requiring 12 credits consisting of English, math, and science classes. Also available to students is the “flexible common core” in which 18 credits are required in World Cultures and Global Issues, U.S. Experience in Its Diversity, Creative Expression, Individual and Society, and the Scientific World. Finally, each individual college within the university has their own general education program that students can opt to take. This is a great example of a flexible and inclusive general education program.
In some cases students feel their college experience is enriched by gen ed classes. Sometimes students go into a class thinking they will hate it and end up completely loving it and taking more classes in that discipline later. However, this cannot be applied to every case. For someone who struggled with math all through high school, I can confidently say that I will not walk into a calculus class and fall in love with it.
Encouraging – even requiring – students to take general education classes definitely contributes to their overall education. However, we need to take a serious look at how these programs are structured and if more flexible alternatives may be more beneficial to the students. Creating a more fluid and inclusive educational environment can start with general education.