letters to the editor

Nothing “Student-Focused” about Gen. Eds.

For being the subject of complaint (or whining) for just about every student at some point in their college career, there’s a startling lack of serious discussion about the merits of NDSU’s general education requirements.

More than just being annoying, however, the institution is largely unhelpful and even manipulative of NDSU’s current and prospective students. Even taking just a brief look at some of the common defenses of general education quickly reveals how unnecessary the process is.

(Just to preface, in case you’re worried about these being straw man arguments, these arguments are taken from easily accessible defenses of general education from Columbia College, Northern Illinois University’s independent s

First, the “all students need to have certain common skills” argument:

This logic blatantly ignores the fact that many of the disciplines taught under general education simply don’t transfer to other careers. Coming from the perspective of a future language arts teacher, it’s hard to imagine a time when knowing how to measure the cleavage of a rock might help. Nevertheless, NDSU requires a full ten credits of classes in the sciences.

Additionally, even for classes that might reasonably apply to most careers, like composition or public speaking courses, the general education format neglects the need for specificity in learning these skills. A researcher in the field of agricultural sciences is going to be presenting their findings in a vastly different way than a teacher is going to be speaking in front of their class, but even so, both groups are taught under the same public speaking format given by the communication department.

A second common argument is that “without general education, NDSU just becomes job-training”.

Here’s an easy one. Why shouldn’t NDSU shift to becoming more career oriented? The absolute most commonly cited reason that students give for going to college is “gain knowledge for career” at 40 percent, with “gain a well-rounded general education” trailing at 17 percent according to a collection of surveys published by TIME Magazine and the Carnegie Corporation in October of 2012. According to the same report, an overwhelming 83 percent of respondents stated that they believe college course requirements are incompatible with student goals.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an institution advocating for a well-rounded education, even if that may not be what its students want. However, when an institution like NDSU shouts its mission of being “student-focused” from the rooftops, it can’t justify blatantly ignoring why most of its students are there.

Being “student-focused” doesn’t work like that.

One last common argument in-favor of general education is that “some college students haven’t yet decided on a major.”

I cannot overstress how dangerous and manipulative this reasoning is.

This logic takes advantage of students who might not actually need a college education. It tells all people that “you belong here, even if you don’t know what you’re doing yet.”

Christian Novak, English education junior

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