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GenEd Classes: A waste of time?

By Caleb Brown
On September 14, 2011

We are not quite two weeks into the semester and already I find myself cringing at the thought of going to certain classes. And I'm sure I'm not alone. But this is all part of college right? We all have to take those classes that we would rather not, you know, the ones that seem to have nothing to do with our major. On top of that sometimes it's hard to care about things you are not interested in learning about.

I've written before that we as students can get more out of college than just a degree that leads to a job. Sometimes the classes we take and the experiences we get can be valuable in and of themselves. There is a certain aspect of self-improvement and learning for its own sake that comes, or at least should come, from our time here at school.

This is exactly the position that the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse takes with regard to general education. The "Student Learning Outcomes" as posted on the general education Web site speak to the concept of creating well rounded students. One of the points listed mentions giving students the "ability to think beyond one's discipline".  

Dr. Sharon Jessee, a professor in the English department who has taught both general education and upper level courses agrees.

"Ultimately all of these courses are good for making responsible citizens," said Jessee.  

Dr. Jessee is not alone in this sentiment either. Indeed, one sophomore when asked about the general education program said, "You learn a lot."

However, do we really benefit from these classes? Some of them are the classes where it seems you can stroll in occasionally, fake paying attention and still manage to pull off earning an A.

Corissa Raska, a senior in the communication studies student said, "I felt like it was a waste," referring to how much she felt she benefited from some of her general education classes.

And as novel as some of the material covered may be, "You're not interested in them, and you won't do anything with them," Raska said.

Even those who see value in these courses can sympathize with students who find them to be drudgery.

"There is a disconnect between how immediately applicable a course is and career goals [of students]," said Dr. Jessee.

Then there are the redundancies. For instance a math major who in the course of completing the general education requirements has to take math classes. These situations can be found in just about every major. If you are going to spend the next four years extensively studying math, it should not be that much of a stretch for the school to drop that from the general education requirements. After all, it can be pretty tough to get a bachelor's degree in four years and being bogged down by useless requirements can lengthen your time spent in school.

The bottom line is that as much as we may like it here at UW-L, none of us want to be here forever. Moreover, as students, we certainly are not made of money nor do we have an overabundance of time. And every course we take costs us both. Maybe it's time for the general education program to be streamlined a little bit. Allow for students to tailor what classes they need to take in order to better fall in line with their proposed majors. This does not mean gutting general education program, but with limited time and money we all have to prioritize.


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