Voices: Why are Gen Eds Important?

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 at 2:53 PM

Just last year I remember how stressed I was — applying to different colleges, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t be rejected, but everything was worth it for the elation that came with the acceptance letters. For a few seconds, I felt like I could finally breathe deeply again ... but the calm facade that had enveloped me shattered quickly. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t thought of an important question: what’s the next step?  

I got in (woo-hoo!), but I hadn’t even an inkling about what major I should choose in order to direct me toward a career that I hadn’t yet decided upon. I panicked a little, but in the end chose to major in English literature because I enjoy reading. So, the stress began anew, escalating all the way up until the moment I started my first classes at Edinboro — my Gen Eds. 

Gen Eds, short for “general education” credits, is a term used for courses that are supposed to make up the foundation of an undergraduate degree, ideally forcing college students to be well-rounded people. The number of Gen Eds vary from college to college, but according to Unbound, “most general education requirements cover 1/3 to 1/2 of a degree, between 42-60 semester-based college credits.”  

At Edinboro, we have to fill seven core requirements on various topics and three distribution courses, the latter of which essentially looks at some information that you learned in your core classes in more depth. While that may seem like a lot, these courses, and their ability to be applied to multiple majors, have saved many students like my parents who decided to switch their degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as many as “80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once ... on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.” 

In short, you take mostly Gen Eds the first couple semesters, which are the same for all degrees, and then you’re not too far behind when you make a degree switch. That’s just one reason they’re an absolutely vital part of the college education system. While I personally have not — nor do I desire to — change my major, there are so many people who do. Let's go back to my parents. Both are Edinboro alumni, and they went into college believing they were going into occupations vastly different from the ones they ended up in. My dad thought he wanted to be a doctor; he ended up becoming a computer programmer. My mom wanted to be a forest ranger, and she became a psychology teacher. How and why did this happen? You guessed it: it’s all because of Gen Eds. 

Gen Eds are also important in the sense that they make you a more well-rounded person. It basically does the same thing that K-12 education does, which is give you enough background knowledge to know what you’re talking about in a variety of arenas. Think about it: don’t you absolutely hate arguing with someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic at hand? Gen Eds can give you basic knowledge for everyday discussion, saving you from looking foolish.  

Gen Ed courses also offer a strong foundation of knowledge for a student to build off of and thrive. I know for me, my Gen Ed history courses and my K-12 history courses combined give me an insight into the time periods of the written passages I am analyzing in my English courses. That, in turn, gives me some insight into the motivation the author has to write the text. Nearly every important piece of literature I study in my survey classes either influenced the time period in some way, or shows influence from the time period. Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby,” Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Wordsworth’s “Lines,” Byatt’s “The Thing in the Forest” and so many more can be found intertwined with some of history’s — for lack of a better word — climactic points.  

History isn’t the only class I’ve taken that’s supplied parallels within my English classes. It’s just the one that’s appeared most consistently. I’ve also used terms from my sociology and psychology classes to define a trait of a group or character I have read about. The connections between classes are there, you just have to look for them. 

While Gen Eds can feel tedious to those few, like myself, who are set in their major of choice, they are a really important stepping stone in the transition from high school to college. They need to be given another chance to prove themselves to the rest of the college student population. 

Tags: voices

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