It’s time to have a serious conversation about the content of a college education. In the U.S., most colleges and universities require students to take general education classes, commonly referred to as “gen eds.” Nearly two-thirds of a college education at the University of Oregon is general education. General education is required for the university to be accredited; UO group requirements fulfill the minimum requirements. While the university can’t make this cut without losing accreditation, it should reach out to the accreditation committee and try to negotiate a cut of some, if not all, of these requirements.
The Devaluation of the Bachelor’s Degree
For a bachelor’s degree in economics at UO, you only need 64 credits in economics and math. This means that about 36 percent of my bachelor’s degree in economics was actually related to economics. The other 64 percent was general education, which electives are considered a part of. Perhaps the real reason colleges emphasize the importance of general education courses is to help the students who don’t have much of an idea of what they want to major in (known as “undecided” or “undeclared”), so they have a little time to decide.
We already receive a general education in high school. As a society, we need to stop kidding ourselves that a bachelor’s degree today is anything more than high school diploma with a concentration that only gives us about a year to a year and a half of major classes, but with more homework. When looking for post-graduation jobs, I find that many employers now require experience for an entry level job. Not just an internship; employers often seek one to three years of “related experience.” Perhaps employers would value a bachelor’s degree more if there were more experience obtained through additional hands-on classes.
The problem with double dipping
Many classes at UO can fulfill several gen ed requirements, despite being single courses. Some students take advantage of this and call it “double dipping” courses. Examples of classes that double dip into group requirements are math, economics and anthropology. If you take Calculus I and II, and 200-level Statistics, you get three-quarters of the required science group credit, despite being math subjects.
An introductory microeconomics class can double as social science credit. Depending on the anthropology class, you might see it appear in social science and multicultural requirements. The same applies to certain music classes, which may be double counted into arts & letters and multicultural requirements. If UO double counts so much, why does it care about actually requiring so much general education? Why aren’t these classes good enough to stand on their own without double counting credits into majors and minors that we may not have an adequate amount of knowledge of?
Instead of most of a college education being general education, why not cut the time spent in school or allow departments to expand their curriculum? Economics is one area of study that needs to expand its curriculum, but professors are likely reluctant to take away major electives and create more major requirements because of general education requirements.
The London School of Economics even brought up this issue, sparking a campus-wide debate with a panel of professors with a Q&A session afterwards. The debate was about whether economics students learn too much math and not enough about economic history. Today, employers in data analysis, finance and economics want new graduates to understand several computer programming languages, as well as software that isn’t taught in most undergraduate economics programs. As an economics major, it is absolutely appalling that I won’t be properly prepared for the various industries I could work in. Anything else I would need would be self-taught.
Too Much Fluff, Not Enough Specialization
Let’s be honest about what our bachelor’s degrees are: A degree in general education with little more than a year of classes related to our majors. I would have been fine without eight credits of multicultural education. I took History of Jazz and Anthropology of Chocolate. Though they were interesting classes, how will they help me in economics?
By cutting just the group requirements, we would, in theory, have three-year degrees. If implemented, a lot of classes would likely be less clogged with students who don’t care about what’s being taught because they have to take an extra class. We could see departments expand their curriculums and better prepare students for the labor force and potentially graduate school.
As previously mentioned, the UO is required to have a minimum of 45 credits for accreditation. The UO’s executive leadership should get together with other universities in the region and push back on these general education requirements, asserting that we could better supplement our education with a relevant minor or second major. In the meantime, we could trim down on upper-division requirements and multicultural requirements or at least try to incorporate these standards into our major classes. To require more than the minimum for accreditation robs students of their potential in the name of making them more well-rounded within their area of study.