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 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resources and trying to fit students into their traditional four-year framework, which at this point is very outdated.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 U.S. depends on a capable workforce, and that 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 to adapt to this changing environment.
Firstly, it will speed up graduation for the average student. I’m currently a senior at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts. Between the twelve 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 can have no direct relationship to your chosen major. Students have the ability to double up 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 and/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 they help ‘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, room, board, etc at UMass. The gen-eds I did take were not worth $46,000 in any sense. I was fortunate enough to enter with almost thirty AP 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 their ease, and there are plenty of examples of classes with no real world application which 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 much 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.