The American Higher Educational System has, for a long time, been ranked amongst the best in the world. From rigorous degree programs to flexible and innovative learning environments, colleges across the United States are taking strides to maximize students’ college experiences and produce highly qualified workers.
Nonetheless, even in all its glory, there still remains some facets of our undergraduate system that critics are starting to question more, one of them being the relevance of General Education requirements.
“Gen Ed,”as they’re often called, make up about 25% of a college student’s academic career. This means that people studying in American universities could spend up to one school year taking courses that may be completely unrelated to their major.
English composition, basic algebra., U.S history and foreign languages are examples of courses that make up the foundation of most undergraduate degrees. But is offering a diverse course load really worth it in the long run?
On one side of the argument, many people see general education requirements as an opportunity to expand a student’s skill set and gain a basic understanding of modern society. While it is not necessary for an engineering major to take courses in theatre or music, for example, there are benefits to doing so that most people don’t consider.
In an interview with one of UWG’s highly-revered Academic Advisors, Mrs. Tamija Tucker, she describes general education courses as a building base for which students can, “Develop their creativity, critical thinking, enhance their skills and discover their true passion. These qualities allow students to adapt quickly in a fast paced setting, and work effectively in today’s job market.”
For many people, general education courses also allow for a healthy and less strenuous workload balance throughout college. When interviewed about her stance on general education requirements, Chimela Irokanulo, a biology major and certified nursing assistant, revealed that Gen Ed. courses are “far from irrelevant.”
“Throughout my time at UWG, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking classes in human communications, philosophy, and theatre appreciation even if these courses do not necessarily correlate with my major, I believe I may end up using those skills sometime in the future,” Chimela continues.
But not everyone shares the same viewpoint. Another student argues that Gen Ed. courses are simply a rehash of everything he has already learned in high school.
“I shouldn’t have to take math in elementary school, middle school, high school and now college” one UWG student, who pleaded anonymity, complains. “My passion lies in film. I’ve known this since I was a kid, so I don’t see the point in taking courses that don’t align with my interests.”
Indeed, college should be a place where students choose their niche and specialize in it. Besides, since it is amongst the last means of formal education some people receive before entering into the workforce, it is imperative that college students obtain as much relevant training as they can before graduating.
The growing need for job specialization in various industries has also called for university students to avoid being generalists, and instead, channel their time towards courses that will prepare them for a future in their chosen fields.
There is also the narrative that general education requirements pose as a financial burden for low-income students and their families. The average graduate of a four-year college spends the equivalent of an extra year taking courses that are unrelated to their major, if not more.
This results in them paying thousands of extra dollars on tuition, and possibly incurring debt while they’re at it. The burden is far more amplified for community college students, who typically have to take a whopping 22 extra credits, according to a July 2017 report by Complete College America.
So, is there any hope in making general education courses voluntary? The chances are very slim. While removing mandatory GenEd requirements would be one tangible way for college students to save time and money, professors and faculty members whose jobs rely on the GenEd system will be heavily affected.
Ultimately, time will tell which method is most effective for the future of undergraduate education in America.