I have never truly understood the purpose of general education classes at the college level. Sure, gen-ed courses are pretty standard at this point, but many people never really stop to consider why.
Take East Carolina University, for example. According to ECU’s course catalog, the university requires 40 credit hours of general education, broken down between Humanities/Fine Arts (nine hours), Natural Sciences (seven), Social Sciences (nine), Health (three hours), English (six hours), Math (three hours), and general elective (three hours).
Based on the total number of hours, general education requirements take a little over three semesters (based on the 12-hour full time minimum) to complete.
Many students choose to take these throughout their college careers rather than front-loading them, but when you look at the way it is set up, students are clearly meant to take the bulk of these general classes throughout their first two years of school.
I value education above most things, and I have always personally been an advocate for learning new things. However, I have always struggled to see the point of putting such an emphasis on general education at an institution of higher learning other than keeping students in school longer.
For starters, what exactly was the last 13 years of formal schooling if not “general education?” Throughout elementary, middle and high school students learn a wide variety of information from the various subjects listed above, and the high school classes in particular should suffice in terms of general knowledge.
Gen-ed requirements almost act as a gatekeeper for a student’s major, as administration strongly encourages you to take those credits early and wait until late sophomore year to early junior year to take classes within your field of study.
If a student takes that path, what happens if they do not wind up meshing with their major? Suddenly they have to change majors midway through college and likely have to either load up on classes over the summer or take an extra semester or two to graduate, which means extra money spent on tuition and fees.
And of course, there is the age-old argument: “When will I actually use this in real life?” While I can see the merit of having knowledge in a variety of fields, it is worth noting that most of the knowledge gained through gen-ed classes doesn’t really have much bearing on life after college. Such a heavy course load of classes that won’t ultimately matter doesn’t make much sense.
Students go thousands upon thousands of dollars into debt going to college, and yet when they arrive, they must spend almost the first two full years taking courses that have very little benefit to them, all the while paying for said courses. The way the system is set up now feels like it is less about education and more about business: making your school more attractive with higher enrollment numbers and making more money off of students who simply want a degree by forcing them to take so many gen-eds that they’re in school for almost twice as long.