Julia O'Reilly

Welcome to college! It’s very different than high school. In high school, you had to study everything — like math, English, science and history. But in college, you get to specialize and major in something you’re passionate about! Only take classes that you want, you know, other than that pesky math general education (Gen Ed) requirement. And of course there’s that English Gen Ed credit you need to fulfill, that science lab Gen Ed and that history one too.

PSA: It’s not that different — don’t be fooled.

Gen Ed requirements are one of college’s whimsical ways of setting students up to fail. As described by Southern New Hampshire University, “[Gen Ed] courses provide a wide breadth of learning opportunities and skills that can be applied to everyday life.” However, this is actually completely counterintuitive to the point of college learning, which is to hone in on specific specialties as seen in the establishment of majors and minors. The only degree that Gen Ed requirements contribute to is a B.S. in BS, and here’s why.

Gen Ed requirements dilute a student’s education with often tedious and random classes that are not at all geared toward that students’ interests. College students often find themselves struggling to fit courses they might actually enjoy into their jam-packed schedules. While the intentions behind the Gen Ed system are admirable — encouraging students to step out of their comfort zone and try classes and studies they wouldn’t have otherwise tried — it undermines the so-called process of becoming self-sufficient adults that universities claim to be conducive to. The in-state estimated undergraduate cost of attendance for a student at Binghamton University is currently $29,784. By telling students what they are paying to study in the form of these Gen Ed requirements, institutions like BU are sending the message that students are not responsible enough to make these choices on their own, making a significant part of earning their degree contingent upon the university’s agenda — like bringing business to departments that would otherwise be neglected.

Students spend their entire primary education experience trying to see what they like or don’t like for the sake of streamlining their interests to decide what to study in college. And now, the Gen Ed requirements make students work backward, putting them back in this large pool of interests for the sake of sifting through them again, rather than allowing students to allocate their time, money and course load to where they see fit. By forcing students to conform to these academic guidelines, colleges stunt students’ educational freedoms and interests rather than encouraging them to exercise their agency as academics. “Cracks in the Ivory Tower,” written by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness, argues that “The problem is that Gen Eds have both a high monetary cost and a high opportunity cost for students. If students must take — and pay for — a largely superfluous and ineffectual class, that burden comes out of their time and their bank accounts.”

If students would like to, they will choose a plethora of classes on different topics in the search for what they are passionate about. And they’ll do so without having a gun held against their heads while BU President Harvey Stenger says, “Take Intermediate Drawing — or else.” And, other students who have known they wanted to be veterinarians since age 5 will choose to embrace classes centered around that. Every student is different, and their educational paths should reflect that rather than the students being forced to conform to the same cookie-cutter system like that of the never-ending Harpur Writing requirement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy fulfilling my health and wellness requirement by allocating thousands of dollars to a yoga class just to carry the damn mat around all day and re-roll it up more often than a pothead rolls blunts. I’m just saying that if students are paying for their own education, shouldn’t they be able to dictate what it is they are paying for?

And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Brown University, an Ivy League institution known for being one of the best universities in the nation, crafts its own curriculum around that very question. Known as the Open Curriculum, Brown University has adapted their learning systems to the individuality of every student by ridding them of the set guidelines of Gen Eds and requirements that prove unrelated to their interests. Brown claims that, “At most universities, students must complete a set of core courses. At Brown, our students develop a personalized course of study — they have greater freedom to study what they choose and the flexibility to discover what they love.” This provides students with the freedom to explore varied interests while also allowing them to be the “architect of their own education.”

Students are adults, and BU, as well as colleges across the nation, must understand that it’s time for them to let go of the $30,000 bicycle and let students pedal along their educational path on their own, and in whatever direction they choose. It is a university’s job to provide a student’s education, not to control it, and the sooner universities gear their curriculums toward that idea, the sooner we all get to be the architects of our own education.

Julia O’Reilly is a sophomore majoring in biology.