Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Get rid of gen-ed courses that cost time and money

By Nick Pappas

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Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian

Andy Castillo/Daily Collegian


Higher education isn’t what it used to be. In years past, it served as a training ground for the children of the elite, and was attended by a select few of the nation’s young adults. Today, it is something that is almost required to live a middle-class or better lifestyle, and the relative price of higher education has been consistently rising over the past few decades as a result of a higher demand. Both of these large-scale changes have not been met with complementary adaptations by the academic establishment. Rather, colleges and universities have been squandering resources and trying to fit students into their traditional four-year framework, which at this point is very outdated.

American academia must understand that the future of the United States depends on a capable workforce, and that American students and families are going into painful levels of debt to achieve it. Therefore, I propose removing, or at a minimum reducing, general education and related requirements for a variety of reasons.

First, it will speed up graduation for the average student. I’m currently a senior in the Isenberg School of Management, and between the 12 necessary general education categories and the 21 credits of “breadth” requirements (which are separate non-Isenberg classes needed for graduation in addition to gen-eds), up to 69 credits of the 120 needed for graduation may have no direct relationship to my chosen major. Students have the ability to double up on certain gen-eds, but at the end of the day this will only be done a couple times at best by most students. Roughly two years, give or take some time, can be spent completing classes that are unrelated to your chosen field.

Second, less time in school means less debt or more money for your parents’ retirement and your siblings’ educations. Those who disagree with me will use pale generalities like gen-eds make you a better student or open your mind. Well, at many universities the price per year is exceeding $50,000. For me, it has been roughly $23,000 a year in tuition, fees, and room and board at UMass. The gen-eds I did take were not worth $46,000. Personally, I was fortunate enough to enter with almost 30 Advanced Placement credits, cutting those down significantly. But for students who are at or behind where they should be on credits, this could be devastating financially. Those who oppose reducing the number of gen-eds and related requirements like “breadth” need to explain why it is worth tens of thousands of dollars of additional life-crippling debt, which is what universities are subjecting young people to by holding their degrees for ransom until enough credits are completed.

Of course, the negative effects of debt don’t end at harming those who have to pay them back. It hurts the overall economy when loanable funds are being absorbed for an inefficient use. In other words, the available money for loans every year is limited, and if we can reduce the number of student loans we can see an increase in other types of loans, like small business credit or mortgages. This will help grow the economy and produce new jobs, which is something current graduates are often struggling to find.

It also harms our economic growth when many workers are spending too much time in college. Indeed, they could instead start their careers earlier than they otherwise would, and thus pay more taxes and save more money over the course of their career before retirement. Not to mention, all of this would help the federal and state governments’ budgets by reducing spending on student aid.

Finally, students get less out of these classes than people think. Many students pick them based on easiness, and there are plenty of examples of classes with no real world application that satisfy requirements. Some, like writing courses, provide a useful skill applicable in all parts of life. But overall, most of these classes don’t provide many skills that people can use in their day-to-day occupations, and likely end up lowering the number of degree-holders by making graduation more difficult.

Nicholas Pappas is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


4 Responses to “Get rid of gen-ed courses that cost time and money”

  1. Peter Lewicke on September 16th, 2015 2:41 pm

    In Search of Ignorance

    Mr Pappas, I found your column “Get rid of gen-ed courses that cost time and money” interesting in several ways, and I might be able to assist you in a small way. You are completely right that Gen-Ed requirements don’t lead toward your faster completion of a degree program in business, but they were never intended to save money or speed your completion of Business major.

    The gen-ed requirements are intended to make up for some of the secondary education that you never received. Until fairly recently high school graduates were expected, actually required, to have a fair understanding on U.S. and World History, competency in math through Algebra and Geometry, mastery of a modern language, and a good understanding of Latin, etc. Within the last few decades the requirements for high school graduation have slide into the sewer (the Federal government got involved). These days there are people graduating high school and getting into college who never had even one year of Latin, and who don’t even have an elementary understanding of Algebra, and forget about the rest.

    A large part of a university education now is remedial, filling in the gaps that should have been filled in earlier times. You shouldn’t blame the university for having those course requirements; local and state education departments should be blamed, because they let the requirements fall so far.

    In addition to the low standards of secondary education, there is the matter of UMass Amherst being a university, rather than a business school. It is expected that anyone who graduates will have some comprehension of many academic disciplines. If you just want business courses, then you might be better off dropping out and getting a job as assistant manager at a fast food place, and you could take some business courses in your spare time. That way you could earn money and get practical experience in addition to classroom time.

    But your column also assisted me in finding a subject for a blog post. This one will be “In Search of Ignorance”. You aren’t the only one who seems to be opposed to education, knowledge, and so forth. A while ago I ran into an article, blog post really, in which the writer wants to encourage scientific literacy. Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t know his science and didn’t bother to check the facts.

    Last year, The Economist had a major article about journal published scientific experiments that were irreproducible. Many of the scientists spent years creating experimental data that could not be reproduced; that was rather a waste of time, but much of the so-called science that people in the climate change business are producing is equally reproducible, and businesses and governments are considering spending large sums of money based on those fantasies. But you would never have a chance to figure that out, if you took only the courses you want to, because you don’t have an adequate grounding in the hard sciences. I just looked at the present Gen-Ed requirements, and found that they have almost been eliminated, so you shouldn’t complain, but there is still a requirement believe that among the Gen-Ed requirements is one for three science courses, so you should have something in common with scientists who fudge the results of their experiments.

    There also is a requirement for a course in Analytical Reasoning, so that should help you to determine that the evidence that someone produced as part of a presentation was actually fantasy, just pseudo-facts designed to confuse people who don’t know that field well.

    But maybe you are right and the Gen-Ed requirements should be eliminated. You be able to finish your major requirements in two years, and then you could be an other almost literate specialist who didn’t even understand how his specialty fit in with the rest of the world. That would create positions for people with good, general educations to go in and straighten out the messes that you made.

    If you had any sense, then you would be trying to increase the Gen-Ed requirements to ensure that there would be adequately educated people in the future. You might also try to improve primary and secondary education. Not long ago high school graduates were better educated than university graduates are now, and people completed the eighth grade with an education that was superior than what most high school graduates have now. That wasn’t because children were any smarter. They were not given any alternative; they were required to take the courses, or they could drop out and get unskilled factory jobs.

  2. Kris on September 16th, 2015 4:28 pm

    I agree with this piece so much it hurts. I actually did a project on this while going for my MBA. And who with any sense would try to increase the gen-ed requirements? People who major in technical and useful paths like engineering and business end up with more credits than they need to graduate because of the gen ed requirements. Most other majors have to take more gen eds just to fulfill their credits requirement. So on one end you have people paying extra and spending more time at school because they are forced to take so many gen eds, and on the other end you have people paying extra and spending more time at school because their majors aren’t as intensive, so they have to fill in the remainder with fluff.

    And not to bring in my own personal bias, but
    when your econ professor brags about voting for Obama,
    your German Film class has a guest professor that talks about Obama and the post-racial US,
    your Embracing Diversity class decries white discrimination against Jews but OKs black discrimination against Jews,
    Biology of Social Issues has powerpoints that bash republicans but not democrats who have environmentally unfriendly records,
    your Culture through Film textbook talks about the benefits of Marxism over capitalism and talks about nuclear disarmament,
    and your History of Indigenous Peoples TA says that the first instances of terrorism were committed by US snipers in the Gulf War…


  3. Alum95 on September 21st, 2015 1:53 pm

    The two comments are infinitely more thoughtful than the actual piece, and in many ways dissect exactly what is wrong with higher education. Much of this is summed up in a recent NY Times Magazine piece called “Utopia vs. Utility.”

    Mr. Lewicke makes a larger point about the utopia aspect of higher learning, that this should be a period of questioning, learning, expanding one’s horizons, challenging beliefs on which you have been raised, etc. And yet, Kris points out the practical reality that UMASS culture in particular, but universities around America as a whole, derail such higher learning by indoctrinating students in alternate, often fanatically one-sided (read: left wing) viewpoints and failing to educate students to critically think and to consider multiple sides of an issue. This has been such a pervasive problem in American higher education for so many years that the problem has hit critical mass, which has many many folks wondering about the utility of the university degree. It is now talked about routinely in financial circles as being evaluated based on ROI (return on investment), something that was unthinkable until recently.

    Universities have big problems on their hands. On one hand, they ARE teaching a lot of remedial subjects to a generally dumbed-down student body. On the other hand, the value proposition is so out of proportion as students essentially have to take on a 30 year mortgage payment just to get through an education which will produce for them only limited skills in the marketplace (other than sciences).

    There must be some mix of general education and specialization. As it stands we have a terribly uninformed population, which is part of the reason why our politics have been permitted to get so extreme. As someone with over 20 years in the workforce, my simple advice is, while you are fighting the system (or not), unless you aspire to be an educator or college professor, make sure you leave UMASS with a degree in finance, business, engineering, science or technology of some kind.

    To be more particular, business and government need literally hundreds of thousands of programmers to defend our nation against ever-increasing cybersecurity threats and also to combat rogue nations (China, Russia, Iran, N. Korea) who are conducting 24-7 cyberwarfare on our nation. If you don’t already have a major and aspire to making a good living and wish to be eminently employable for the next generation or two, drop that liberal arts curriculum and hurry over to the computer science or technology department or whatever its called now and change your major. Cybersecurity will be the number one job besides cleaning up after people in the nursing homes for the next 25 years at least.

  4. jake on March 11th, 2018 4:46 pm

    Excellent! I agree with all your points. At the end of the day being “well rounded” is something only the rich can afford. The rest of us need to get in and out of college as quickly as possible to have any hope of living a middle class life.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

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