As my freshman year comes to an end and I have scheduled for the first semester of sophomore year, my frustration with general education requirements has grown exponentially. I have taken 12 courses this year, and I have only gotten to take three classes related to my major.
Why is it that I am forced into taking general education classes – both for the university and the College of Arts and Sciences? Is the whole point of college not to be able to study the major you are pursuing a degree in?
Let’s start with the argument for general education requirements. The IU bulletin has written a statement on the importance of general education at the university.
IU states that gen-ed requirements are “intended to ensure that... all undergraduates at IUB develop the essential skills of English composition and mathematical modeling, and are exposed to the vast wealth of course offerings that IU Bloomington has to offer in arts and humanities, social and historical studies, natural and mathematical sciences, and world languages and cultures.”
This is supposedly meant to provide IU students with “enriching educational experiences.”
While these skills are nice to have, we are paying members of this institution. We cannot forget that each class comes with a price, and the university is benefiting from making its students take a plethora of classes that are unrelated to their major.
I am a journalism major with a concentration in public relations. My major requires 36 credit hours with 24 credit hours of a second concentration. If I took the maximum number of credit hours per semester, which is 19 at IU, I could complete my major credit hours in a single school year. I could then complete my second concentration the next year very comfortably. Without general education, I could complete all of my major requirements in half the time it typically takes to obtain a bachelor's degree.
As a paying student of this institution, how could you justify needing to pay for two full years of “enriching educational experiences”? While I do think that these classes can help foster well-rounded students, it should not be forced upon them. In reality, this guise of building well-rounded students is simply a ploy for money.
We took 13 years of general education before college: it’s called K-12. I spent almost my entire K-12 education learning English composition, mathematical modeling, arts and humanities, social and historical studies, natural and mathematical science, and world language and cultures. The difference is that I was learning those skills for free, which does no good to universities.
I will acknowledge that not everybody’s K-12 education was sufficient in teaching these subjects. In a piece published by Inside Higher Ed by Dr. Paul Hanstedt, director of Houston H. Harte Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington and Lee University, he, too, acknowledged this fact. But Hanstedt goes on to explain general education is not the solution.
“My point, though, is that even if our students come in needing ‘some additional help,’ we don’t do them – or ourselves – any favors by packaging their learning and development in a way that constructs them as uninterested, unintellectual and incapable. And at many institutions – even many very good institutions – this curriculum, these courses – they feel like high school,” Hanstedt wrote.
I would agree with this assessment. Many of the general education courses I have taken have left me feeling anything but enriched. We have to give credit to university students. They worked hard through K-12 and did all the necessary steps in order to be accepted into a university. As a university student, there is an expected level of general understanding of these gen-ed requirements.
I believe that we need to follow university models like the United Kingdom.
According to Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad“In the U.K., students fulfill their general ed requirements prior to starting at university so when they start their undergraduate degree, they choose their major and only take classes in their discipline.”
This would be a great way to both achieve a comprehensive education and get to focus on your major once you reach the university level.
College is meant to be a place where students can choose their course of study and set themselves up for their future careers. Why should I, as a PR journalism student, be required to take science and math courses that are not very relevant to the field at all? Why should a STEM major need to take an English composition course that is like the high school English courses they took for four years?
Having to make room in my schedule and pay for classes that I don’t want to take is the antithesis of what college is meant to be all about.
Ravana Gumm (she/her) is a freshman studying journalism.