Enrollment appointments are coming up soon at the University of Connecticut, starting Oct. 24. Many students are trying to figure out which classes they should take for the next semester. Along with their major courses, many will have to take general education studies courses, or gen-eds, to fulfill their graduation requirements. Soon, you will find students asking others offline and online about which easy gen-eds they should take and which to avoid.
UConn requires students to take about six credits for each of the four content areas relating to the arts and humanities, an information literacy course, three quantitative competency courses, two writing competency courses, and an environmental literacy course. If you do the math, the minimum amount of credits needed to fulfill general education requirements is 45 credits, or 15 courses. This is excluding the chances of having completed the second language requirement and excluding the four credit courses. Considering that we need at least 120 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, gen-eds take about 40% of our college education. This is a large proportion of our time and effort spent obtaining a degree, so I think we should make changes, either by reducing the amount of credits or trying to get the most out of them. According to UConn’s website, the purpose of gen-eds is “to ensure that all University of Connecticut undergraduate students become articulate and acquire intellectual breadth and versatility, critical judgment, moral sensitivity, awareness of their era and society, consciousness of the diversity of human culture and experience, and a working understanding of the processes by which they can continue to acquire and use knowledge.” In short, the school states that gen-eds are helpful for us in many aspects. But are they in actuality?
Many gen-eds are not related to specialized majors, so students often do not consider gen-eds worth the effort to seriously learn in. Instead, most students consider gen-eds a GPA booster or just something to get over with as soon as possible. No matter how interesting French history in the 19th century may sound, if the workload is known to be heavy and the assignments and exams are graded harshly, nobody is willing to take that class. You can find a pool of your friends taking the same gen-eds and recommending the easy ones to incoming students, which will keep on circulating until the professor decides to make things harder. Therefore, “acquiring intellectual breadth,” or “critical judgment,” does not accurately reflect the implementation of gen-ed requirements.
However, there are advantages that gen-eds can provide us. For example, W courses teach students basic writing, reading comprehension and critical thinking skills required by many workplaces. By taking gen-eds that differ from their major, students get to explore unfamiliar subjects and discover varying areas of interest. Thanks to the gen-eds I took during my first year, I learned what subjects were surprisingly interesting to me and which were surprisingly uninteresting. It helped me choose which field of study I wanted to explore deeper by eliminating the subjects I didn’t like, thus narrowing my choices. That being the case, it might be true that gen-eds are somewhat useful and can help awaken the potential of many clueless students.
The implementation of gen-eds has merit in a college setting, but UConn should allow more flexibility with the choices students can make regarding which courses count as gen-eds, and further reduce the number of required gen-ed credits. Also, students should not be stressed about the grades they get for their gen-eds. We should be able to choose whatever course we find interesting instead of choosing a gen-ed course just because it is known as an easy-A. Gen-eds should not be as stressful as major courses. I respect schools trying to help students explore and give them a wide range of knowledge over their four years of college. However, we should think about whether this is helping or restricting student choice. As the author Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”