Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

General Education courses should not be required

(Amanda Joinson/Collegian File Photo)
(Amanda Joinson/Collegian File Photo)

At the University of Massachusetts, every undergraduate student is forced to take 11 general education classes. These classes include college writing, basic math, analytical reasoning, biological science, physical science, arts and literature, historical studies, social and behavioral science, social world, global diversity and United States diversity.

To give some perspective, my major, English, requires me to take 12 classes. Students who choose only to take the classes required of them will spend the same amount of time on their Gen Ed requirements as they spend on their core requirements. I believe that Gen Eds are a waste of time.

Combining the time devoted to all Gen Eds, it can be concluded that students will end up spending roughly two whole semesters (one academic year) fulfilling them. This constitutes 25 percent of the four years typically allotted to an undergraduate education.

According to the University, the purpose of taking these 11 classes completely unrelated to our majors is to broaden our horizons. Fair enough. But should we be forced to spend equally as much time on subjects that we are potentially uninterested in and uncomfortable with as we spend on the subject that we are passionate about or good at?

Every day between kindergarten and senior year of high school, we took classes in almost every subject area – math, English, social studies, foreign language, sciences, etc. The classes that challenged us in high school are still equally as likely to challenge us in college. Except now, the GPA that is presented to future employers when we graduate college is potentially 50 percent contingent on our success in these areas, rather than entirely on the subject in which we earned our degrees.

Of course, there is a diverse range of classes that students can take to fulfill these Gen Ed courses, ranging from introductory classes to upper-level classes. The problem with this is that intro classes will not engage students because they know that, typically, only minimal effort is required to succeed in them. Upper-level courses, on the other hand, will overwhelm students because those classes are generally geared toward students with majors in those particular subject areas, even if those classes fulfill a Gen Ed requirement.

Students should not be forced to choose between exerting minimal effort and being subject to the same expectations and work load in a class as the students within that major. Choosing the former will cheapen a student’s desire to engage in their learning. Choosing the latter may potentially force the student to sacrifice a substantial amount of time that they would prefer to spend on courses required for their major. As a result, this may potentially lessen their ability to engage in their major classes, and even lead to a lower GPA due to the lessened available time to spend on those classes.

Gen Ed classes may be useful for students. I believe that writing and diversity classes can be hugely beneficial to students of all majors. Having an understanding of the way that social hierarchies and patterns are constructed and maintained is necessary for acknowledging one’s place in the world. Also, communicating effectively is one of the most important skills not only in the workforce, but in one’s entire life.

However, the sheer amount and range of classes required of students makes them ineffective.  For humanities students like me, taking two different science classes and two different math classes will not benefit their education. Nor is it likely that I will retain the information to apply the knowledge I learn in classes in subject areas that challenge me deeply. Likewise, students in the natural sciences are unlikely to reap any meaningful benefits from taking a literature class. Not only are situations like this inconvenient and unenjoyable, but they can also greatly damage a student’s education if they do poorly in these classes or are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to succeed in subject areas that they have always struggled with.

I believe that the 11 Gen Ed classes should only be required for undeclared students who are most likely exploring their interests and are unsure of what subject areas interest them the most. These students belong to the University demographic that is most likely to reap the benefits of the wide range of Gen Ed courses. They are far less likely to feel reluctant to spend substantial amounts of time on the required classes, due to the fact that they have no higher educational priorities like those faced by students who have declared a major.

Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    JoooBloooApr 6, 2018 at 12:12 am

    There are so many classes I am biting at the chomp to take that would help me at my job I’m starting in a month. Programming classes, statistical classes, system testing classes. Unfortunately, I’m making up a history class I never took, which is a “weed out” class designed to overburden students with daunting, time consuming assignments. Not only is it a waste of my time, but an injustice to my potential. I can’t afford another semester to finally get to the classes I wish I could take. Instead I’ll leave unsatisfied with my degree. I’m taking one intercession class right after I graduate to at least squeeze one in. A consolation I guess.

  • T

    TomApr 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I find that the gen ed classes take away from the time students need to spend on my engineering classes. My classes get students jobs not the useless gen ed classes. What possible purpose would PE or ceramics have to do with engineering? It also cost money for the students to take these classes which tells me that if the gen ed was not required in colleges, most would just go away because without them being required you would see just how useless they are.
    Gen ed classes don’t get my students jobs, they just get in the way.

  • P

    PubliusMar 11, 2015 at 11:32 am

    I think what you’re saying here has merit, but that there are two sides to every coin. One the one hand, you’re right Gen Ed’s are generally either fluff classes or way too hard to be worth what they are. But as someone in a very focused major, Gen Ed’s offer a breath of fresh air from my daily grind of science and mathematics. It diversifies my viewpoints, and helps me form real opinions on the world as I mature in college. And you never really know when you’ll use those random bits of knowledge. My strategy has always been to take the fluff courses, but to also take them seriously and take them a step beyond what is required. In that way I am engaging in my learning, but not over stressing myself to the point where it is detrimental.

    I think ideally schools should make separate courses for students in a major and students outside the major specific to that course. You’re right, these groups will move at different speeds. And the other solution, which is already in effect that I’m not sure you know about and/or applies to English specifically but I know I have an overall GPA then my major GPA, which only counts relevant courses. Employer’s in my job searches have seen both, and usually understand if some stupid Gen Ed class is bringing your score down.

    Either way, brilliantly written article. Good points on a pressing relevant issue.

    – Publius

    • D

      Darian HallNov 28, 2021 at 9:12 pm

      You hit the nail on the head here. However, I think the major issue is that Gen Ed courses are required. Yes, some Gen Ed courses indeed expand and diversify viewpoints, but to me, one who coughs up many thousands of dollars each semester for school ought to have a say in all of their academic career. As such a person, I feel distracted and weighed down by courses that do not relate to what inspired me to pursue higher education in the first place. Sure, I might be more inclined to philosophize and ponder my own views by taking certain Gen Ed classes. But, I am much more concerned about studying what I enjoy to make a living doing what I enjoy in as timely a manner as I can. I do appreciate and respect your counterpoint. That’s my two cents, for whatever it’s worth.



  • M

    m88Feb 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

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  • S

    SamApr 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    I disagree- as an HFA major myself, I view Gen Eds as an essential part of a college education. The requirements are not difficult to fill, as there are only a few courses required, many of which are easily filled in your major or minor.

    Two science and two math classes (one of which can be bypassed by passing an astonishingly easy online test) are not too difficult for an HFA major to handle. I strongly believe that, if you are completely unable to express enough interest and effort to pass basic math and science, you don’t really belong in college, and are contributing to the negative stereotyping of HFA and Social Science majors.

    Each Gen Ed category can benefit the educational experiences of all majors:
    Math/Science majors benefit from arts and literature by exposing them to writing and analytical concepts not present in their own courses.

    Art/Literature majors benefit from math and science by gaining practical skills, understanding the scientific method of knowledge, and having at least a basic understanding of the world we live in.

    The diversity requirements serve to expose all majors to different cross sections of society, the concept of difference, and how it influences the social world we live in.

    All of the requirements work together to create a well-rounded college student, who also has a large degree of specialization through their major.

    • J

      JoooBloooApr 6, 2018 at 12:15 am

      Hello Sam? Back to Earth please. The train to Utopia left an hour ago…

  • T

    The Agreeing StudentApr 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree. I am a double major and have straight A’s in each one. Gen Eds have held my GPA back tremendously – and it’s not because I lack the work ethic. The Gen Eds I’ve taken have been full of many professors who don’t show as much attention to the subject, as the classes are mainly filled with non-major students. I’ve seen that the TAs in these courses are not helpful at all, either.

    That being said, I’ve taken some fantastic Gen Eds, but those are mainly because I had some sort of faint interest in each one, such as my Biology of Social Issues course or my Japanese Literature course.