General education programs should not go too far

Schools around the nation want to expand general education requirements beyond core classes, according to a survey released this month by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). The survey, taken by chief academic officers at 443 U.S. colleges, found that 89 percent of the colleges were re-assessing or changing their general education programs.

Under the old programs, students were typically required to take a few classes from each general subject — such as math, English and science — before focusing exclusively on courses for their major.

However, only 15 percent of the schools surveyed still rely solely on this method to ensure students receive a general education.

General education programs are important for promoting a well-rounded education and
helping undecided students pick a major, but expanding these programs too much may interfere with an important aspect of a college education: preparing students for a career in a specialized field.

In the survey, though, 33 percent of the universities required upper-level general education classes.

Students receive a balanced education in high school and in their first year or two in college, so by the time they reach upper-level college classes, they should be ready to focus exclusively on their major, since after graduation they will likely be getting a job in their respective field.

Juniors and seniors majoring in English will not receive much benefit from taking interdisciplinary seminars in math and science. Likewise, biomedical science majors will not be better prepared for medical school by taking upper-level fine arts

But some schools are requiring students to attend such interdisciplinary seminars, or even live in learning communities. For students who have decided on their major, adding general education requirements only stops them from taking more classes they actually need.

Also, many general education classes at USF are held in large classrooms with hundreds of students. Adding more courses that every student must take means more huge classes that limit individual interaction between professors and students as well as what can be done in those courses.

Universities should focus on things such as improving the student/teacher ratio of lower-level general education courses to help make sure the knowledge students acquire stays with them, instead of making them take the same subject again later in their college career.

Improving general educations programs is not a bad direction for colleges, but requiring students to take upper-level general education classes interferes with the main purpose of upper-level classes, in which the focus should be on specialization.