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General education courses: what’s the point?

Spending money to learn things we will only forget

Students see gen-eds as a hassle, the university sees dollar signs

North Dakota State is not alone in requiring its students to take general education courses. Across the country, college students are mandated to take these courses. The ideology behind the classes can sometimes make sense: it broadens the variety of education a college student experiences and allows for students to be exposed to disciplines they may otherwise have never known about.

However, too often general education requirements are little more than an extra cost to students to take a course on a topic they are soon to forget as soon as the class is over. Students often are less engaged in these classes which neither serves them or those other students in their class who are dissuaded in their own passion for the same topic. 

The argument for taking these classes often has to do with exposure. How would a student know that they loved communication if they weren’t forced to take Public Speaking? Who would end up declaring as a sociology major if they didn’t love their professor for Introduction to Sociology?

However, it’s the rare person who takes a random class recommended by the university and finds their passion. In fact, more often than not, taking these classes outside of a student’s major only serves to solidify how much students do not appreciate those other majors.

If students were to change their major, they do so on the advice of a friend or advisor, or perhaps they took a class in high school. No one who comes into college hating science changes their major to pre-med after taking a biology course. 

So if these classes don’t really serve to help students pick their major, there is then the argument that general education courses help students build diverse skills. Students studying English may have never work on a math problem in their life again, so it’s good that they do so in college, right? I think not.

Many schools claim that general education courses allow students in the S.T.E.M. fields to learning writing skills, or that students in the arts or humanities are able to learn rational thinking. However, a required one-credit lab is not the difference between an art student who can think rationally and one who is lost in life.

When students are forced to enroll in classes they don’t hold any intrinsic desire to take, the result is not an eye-opening and life-changing experience, it is apathy and a general sense that most students in a class would rather not be there. These courses rarely provide skills that stick with students for a lifetime. Instead, general education courses are seen as a hurdle to be crossed in order to take the classes and get a degree in the topic of a person’s actual interest.  

There is an exception to every rule, and in this case, it could be seen that those students who have yet to declare a major could benefit from general education requirements. Even then, many students without a major are able to determine which college they would have little interest in being a part of. If a student is trying to decide between criminal justice and anthropology, taking an animal science course is not really going to refine that decision. 

Students are not the only ones paying the price for these often pointless classes, professors are too. Teaching college students, with all their newfound freedom, can’t be easy in the first place, but add hundreds of students who would rather not be there to the mix and it has to be infuriating. Much like students can perceive when a professor would much rather be working on research than teaching in the classroom, professors can tell when students are spending an entire class period watching Tik Toks on their phone.

In this equation of students taking classes that aren’t major-related, of teachers teaching students who would rather not be there, and of all that information being lost to the wind come the end of finals week, there is only one real winner: the university. With enrollment down and finances tight, general education requirements are a sure fire way to get students to take more classes. 

Regardless of these required courses, every NDSU student needs 120 credits to graduate. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to have these credits be applied to topics that a student is interested in, rather than one where individuals are forced to partake?

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