Students studying at Atkins Library

If there is one thing that most college students have become an expert in, it's jumping through the hurdles of general education classes which often seem completely pointless, but still, for some reason, required. After a semester’s worth of hurdles (in this case, general education courses), one starts to wonder whether these classes should be mandatory and useful. Aside from the fact that students must pay the course fee and pay for the textbooks, these classes also take time away from the subjects that really interest students. Others say that general education is important because it provides a broader learning experience and helps the student find their interests.

According to UNC Charlotte’s Division of Academic Affairs, “[General education classes] provides all undergraduate students, regardless of their majors, with the foundations of the liberal education they will need to be informed people who have the ability to act thoughtfully in society, the ability to make critical judgments, and the ability to enjoy a life dedicated to learning and the pleasures of intellectual and artistic pursuits.” I do agree that some of my liberal studies classes taught me these skills above. In fact, I often think about these perspectives when I am writing papers for classes, answering the typical “Why should we pick you?” prompts for internships, or when I am communicating with someone. In the grand scheme of things, general education courses are there to equip students with effective critical thinking and communication skills. If it means that taking these courses are going to make me a better-informed citizen, then I am all for self-improvement and gaining a few extra brain cells. However, when I am required to take classes that promise to add value to my liberal studies education when really it is a rehash of other classes I have already taken, or classes I am never going to retain the knowledge that I have acquired in that class in my day to day life or my future career, I draw the line.

Like many other critics of the general education curriculum, Calista Bell of UNC Charlotte and Avery Kelly of Virginia Commonwealth University both believe that they agree with the statement: If someone is certain of what they want to major in, they should be able to only take the classes relevant to that major. Kelly believes, “It depends on your major, [for example,] STEM majors need general biology and chemistry in order to advance in the field, but don't make me take an art appreciation class because it has nothing to do with my field.” On the other hand, Bell said, “While I did find some of my general education courses interesting, I had to do a bunch of unnecessary amount of classes when I did not need them and it put me an entire semester behind [which] made me have to get permission to overload each semester.” Additionally, Patrick Flynn of UNC Charlotte states, “I have a mixed view of the general education courses. I view college as where I gain the specialized training I need to pursue computer science and life. I feel like your general education should come and stop at high school. The history I learned in these classes as far as content and quality was not much different from what I learned in high school.”

The common opinion among these individuals is that general education classes are often irrelevant because students have all of high school to learn basic material. Liberal arts colleges should realize that a lot of what they teach is just a repeat for some. These individuals believe the best way to cater to the needs of students would be to make it so that those who are "undecided" about their major could take some general education courses in order to find something that they are interested in, but it should not be a requirement in order to graduate. Especially since according to the Quartz, the average student spends two years just trying to complete their general education courses before starting their related coursework. According to UNCC’s Division of Academic affairs, "...general education requirements must…come to between 39 and 44 credit hours (13 or 14 classes).” Out of these 13-14 classes, half of these classes are just devoted to the arts and humanities, which is arguably a lot of classes that do not necessarily double as credit toward a major course part of your degree depending on your major. This time could be better spent on fulfilling prerequisites for a major coursework or taking classes for a minor that could allow students to explore other interests that truly matter to them.

The remarks from Bell, Kelly and Flynn offer a different perspective of why general education courses should be streamlined differently. However, a proponent of general education classes could argue that the point of getting a higher education is to have a broad range of experiences that you can fall back on for help later in life. While I believe that having a broad education is important, I do not think it should be so broad to affect a student’s mental state. Having so many classes that are all in such broad subject areas can be incredibly challenging. Additionally, having so many different areas of study being thrown at someone who has very broad interests and struggles to decide on a major or complete their major because there vast majority of classes to take before one starts the actual related coursework part of the degree -- which is the exact opposite of their intended purpose. Since there is so much societal emphasis placed on what someone majored in during college, being torn between multiple interests can cause more problems than the plethora of skills that gen eds offer.

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