General Education Requirements
A recently submitted question read “Why do I have to take general education courses?” In doing research for this column, I visited dozens of college web sites and read information from numerous colleges about their general education requirements. Citing all of my sources here is impractical. However, I did read extensively on the web pages of the following schools: Penn State, Birmingham-Southern, Missouri, Cincinnati, Illinois-Chicago, and Washington State.
General education requirements, often referred to as gen-eds, are a school’s articulation of the things they believe college graduates should know, be able to do, be exposed to, and in a way, the foundation upon which their graduates will base their interactions with the world around them. They help guide students’ coursework selections within the portion of their degree that is pretty much standardized across a campus. But while there is general standardization, usually only some similarity exists from one school to another. Individual departments or majors may be more specific in some areas when particular courses are necessary as pre-requisites.
These requirements are traditionally determined by faculty, are written up in formal documents, and are often somewhat lengthy and philosophical. The descriptions often contain words like critical thinking, analysis, perspective, collaboration, appreciation, self-expression, discovery, and knowledge. Sometimes, they are simply a list of courses or types of courses students must take in order to graduate. Other times they list broad categories of courses from which students can choose how to meet a requirement. Examples of these categories include logic, ethics, global or multicultural awareness, effective communication, scientific investigation, and, increasingly, information management.
General education requirements provide uniformity among diverse academic disciplines, and help develop more knowledgeable, enlightened and self-aware members of society. This is one of the many differences between higher education and vocational training.
And now for something completely different… There’s a new idea I’ve heard a couple of times recently, but haven’t had time to fully research and make any decisions about. The idea is that parents should finance their own retirement before funding their children’s college education. The main rationale seems to be the fact that a mechanism exists for children to pay for college (federal and state financial aid, scholarships, student work, etc.), but there is no such mechanism for unfunded retirements (when potentially, the parent may not be able to work).
I have to admit, the concept makes a lot of sense and it’s certainly a thought-provoking idea. Of course, the most important question is, “what about partially funding both?” However, I suspect the feeling of parental obligation or simply a desire to see your child not have to struggle financially because of college, will win out in most cases. It just seems selfish to take care of one’s own financial needs before those of your children. More on that in the future…
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