General education classes refer to the foundational courses required in a student’s college career that are meant to promote interdisciplinary learning and to prepare students for success after they graduate. Regardless of a student’s major, everyone must take classes in the same core subjects. However, it seems that the general education system is increasingly regarded as outdated and counterintuitive, as more and more people are wondering why an English major should be paying to take a math class they have no interest in.
Similarly, the general education system that is present in universities across the United States can be seen as a way for universities to ensure students’ completion of a full four years, as opposed to graduating early, and thus receiving a student’s full four years’ worth of tuition. As a result, general education requirements could be seen as a profit-maximizing system that has lost sight of what is truly important — interdisciplinary learning and exposure to subjects that may have otherwise been disregarded. Instead, the system has morphed into a financial burden on college students.
In addition, general education classes are, unfortunately, quite inconvenient. For example, for a math major who hates history and is decidedly bad at the subject, requiring general education history classes can have detrimental effects on their grade-point average, especially at schools like Binghamton University, where general education requirements often cannot be fulfilled through pass/fail courses.
While it is necessary to take into account the burden general education requirements place on college students, whether that be academically or financially, we must also recognize why they were set in place and the goals of this educational system. The general education system can be seen as the foundation of modern American education, with the intention of promoting well-roundedness and versatility. Though the general education system has its flaws — potentially restricting students economically and harming them academically — its goals should not be forgotten. For college students who did not receive premier education in high school, general education classes are a good way to introduce other potentially interesting subjects for students to pursue, particularly ones that they may not have had the opportunity to realize their passion for previously. Furthermore, incoming college students, as well as freshmen and sophomores, have proven to be fickle people, with 30 percent of associate’s and bachelor’s degree students changing their majors at least once. For students who come to college undecided about their major, or even for students who are unsure of the major they are pursuing, the variety of required general education classes could introduce them to a major or minor they are passionate about.
Moreover, while general education courses promote opportunity and variety, they also promote essential interdisciplinary learning. For an engineering major, an English or history course may seem tedious and ultimately unnecessary, but they stimulate a broader skill set that teaches better writing skills and a deeper understanding of the humanities. Following graduation, and in the subsequent job search, the expectation to be well-rounded may be subtle, but it will be there, regardless of what industry you choose to enter. Thus, it is necessary to take these required general education courses, which are often in the form of large, lower-level survey courses, and to take them seriously.
Ultimately, while the general education system can encumber some students, it is important to realize that for many students, this system allows them to discover their major, learn what industry they would like to enter and potentially allow them to find a new passion.
Theodora Catrina is a sophomore majoring in mathematics.