One of the biggest things they don’t tell you about in high school is the biggest similarity between college and high school:
General education, or gen-ed, classes.
Especially if you go to a liberal arts college, and the majority of people do, the school will mandate that students have to take a certain amount of gen-ed classes to “achieve a well-rounded education.”
And having just completed the last of my gen-eds classes, I can say that gen-eds currently feel like a waste of time, money, and effort.
Let’s look at my college as an example. Towson University sets 14 core requirement classes on a variety of topics including the arts, metropolitan studies, and cultural diversity to name a few, in addition to the basic English, math, and science.
I’ve certainly enjoyed some of the core classes I took. I learned more in areas I didn’t know much about before and gained some interesting insights into the world around me. I’m sure if you asked any other college student who’s taken gen-eds, they’ll say the same.
But enjoyment doesn’t mean relevancy or even necessity.
For example, what need do I as a mass communications major have for not one, but two science courses? It will never be relevant for me in the future. It certainly isn’t rounding out my education and only brings my GPA down, as I don’t do well at science.
Gen-eds often feel like an excuse for colleges to get more money out of their students under the claims of “providing students with well-rounded educations.” Students won’t remember the information from a class that wasn’t for their major. It’ll leave their heads the second the class ends, making these numerous gen-eds a waste of money.
These classes also force students to stay in school for longer than necessary.
Realistically, students could be finished college within 2-3 years if gen-ed classes were cut down. That would create more time for students to gain experience in their field and thus be able to get better jobs. That’s more time for students to start actively contributing to their fields.
There’s also the risk to lowered GPAs. Mandatory classes in areas students struggle in puts GPAs at risk. This can be especially bad for students whose GPA is already low or at risk of slipping.
These gen-eds also take away energy and effort needed for major-related courses. I’ve spent hours this semester doing chemistry readings when I needed to work on something for a mass communications class.
I can’t deny that gen-eds are helpful to rounding out educations. The gen-eds taken in college are much more diverse and expansive topics than those in high school. But there’s too many of them, and many of the topics covered in gen-eds are not actually general topics. Since when is metropolitan studies a general area of study?
Colleges should re-evaluate which courses are actually necessary—and which are more extraneous than education-rounding.
There are two major ways gen-eds could be restructured: the amount, and the topics covered.
Rather than have gen-eds on science or math, gen-eds could focus on life skills necessary for entering the world. Students could learn how to properly write resumes, write checks, pay bills, file taxes, and so on. High schools are decreasingly teaching these skills, and so students will find themselves floundering the first time they have to utilize one of these crucial life skills.
For freshmen, colleges could require a gen-ed in college writing to ease their transitions. Towson has this in the form of Towson Seminars, and it was incredibly helpful in adjusting to the different sourcing styles and writing expectations of college.
Obviously, this suggestion is not foolproof. There are always other factors in situations like these, and action would take a few years at minimum to implement such changes. But it’s a change that needs to happen, for the sake of students.