Colleges in the U.S.A

The Importance of General Education Courses

The majority of students are required to take general education courses in addition to the coursework they are already taking related to their specific fields of study at the majority of colleges in the U.S. and around the globe. For instance, each undergraduate student enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, one of the top institutions in the country, must complete 11 general education courses. (Martorano). The general education curriculum at Harvard University, the top university in the UK, is composed of eight categories of classes that are required of all undergraduates. (Rosenberg). Martorano mentions that some of the common general education classes in the U.S.A include arts and literature, college writing, historical studies, basic math, global diversity, physical science, analytical reasoning, social and behavioral science, United States diversity, biological science and social world.

The History of General Education Courses

The history of general courses goes back to the 1960s when American Community Colleges designed a program of a common core courses for the common person (O’Banion 327). This course was meant to be a meeting point for students from all faculties to exchange ideas and interact with each other. The difference however, was that it was only one course, mostly a humanity. Erie informs that general education only became necessary in the United States after the German model of specialization began to dominate American higher education (10). Today, students are faced with over 60 general education courses to choose from. With the proliferation of technology all over the world and globalization, the question of whether general classes are still as important to college students as they were in the past arises.

Benefits of General Education Courses

It is true of course that general education classes make college students well-rounded to better fit in their communities. It is for this reason that general education classes were begun in the American Community Colleges in the first place (O’Banion 328). The understanding behind the need for well-roundedness among students is pegged on the reasoning that general courses in addition to the specialization courses taken by college students provide these students with broader and deeper education. Proponents of this view believe that students with general education background are better placed to be successful over the entire courses of their lives (Erie 134).

Criticism of General Education Courses

The fault in this claim is that it is informed by the prevailing societal circumstances of the 1960s when the general education curriculum was coined. Back then, economies were significantly underdeveloped and employment was scarce. During such periods as the depression, people truly needed to be well-rounded and familiar with several subjects in order to be employed (O’Banion 238). Companies needed people who could combine tasks from various departments and fields in order to cut on employment and hiring costs; and the employees would to anything to get paid. In the present day, however, the opposite is true. Rather that look for people who can do any and everything, employers are in fact beginning to only consider experts in their fields for employment. It therefore beats logic for a student to dedicate a significant amount of time on this general education, and end up cutting back on the time that is spent on making themselves better in their areas of specialization and getting ready for employment in those fields.

The Role of General Education in Ethical Reasoning

Others point out that general education is critical in imparting important values of nationalism, ethics, personal and social responsibility into college students. Proponents of general education have adequately put out the importance of these courses in the participation of such matters as democratic exercises where nationality values and good reason come to play. They believe that people with a solid foundation in such areas as arts, humanities, critical thinking, psychology, sciences, and philosophy are better placed to resist political narratives and ethical dilemmas and make better decisions for themselves and country (Rosenberg). Erie conducted a 2013 study to explore the role of general education courses in contributing to the development of ethical reasoning in college students. Her phenomenological qualitative study reveals that all the faculty members she interviewed at Penn University believed that general education courses had the potential to influence the ethical reasoning of their students (133). Whether intentionally taught as part of their course content or coming as a by-product of their pedagogy, these educators firmly believed that pedagogical techniques in general education courses such as critical thinking, problem solving, analyzing, interpreting, writing and speaking helped college students to be grounded in ethical understanding and practice.

Critique of Ethical Reasoning in General Education

A rebuttal to this claim is that most of the skills mentioned as imparted to college students are in fact available to them at all preceding levels of their education. The U.S. education curriculum is designed in such a way that learners are exposed to important skills and concepts for life from their kindergarten education through to the senior year of high school. Important subjects such as history and religious education provide such skills as national values and ethical reasoning to the learners long before they get to college (Martorano). Making the students at college level to once again learn the same concepts under general education then becomes a duplication of knowledge already gained, and thereby a blatant waste of time.

The Changing Landscape of Education and Technology

One reason why general classes at college level are no longer reasonable in the present day is because the huge presence of technology in everyday life has superseded any roles that were initially by general education. General subjects like History, philosophy and national values are readily available to learners and citizens through various online platforms. Matters like the importance of democracy and voting rights are widely disseminated to citizens through voter education programs and citizen education lobbying programs. It really does not make sense to spend a whole year or more on studying history and arts as general education for a student taking an engineering course, basically going through concepts that can be gained in various other aspects of their daily life (Martorano). At the workplace, ethical reasoning is best gained through interactions with an organization’s internal and external environments. What is more is that the core of most of these general education concepts is in fairly traditional settings, which does not take into cognizance modern aspects like globalization and technology.

The Cost of General Education Courses

Another reason why general education courses are not as meaningful currently is the ever increasing cost of college tuition. Students in most colleges pay tuition fees commensurate to the number of courses they are required to take. Instead of only paying for fees related to their majors, students, parents, and governments are made to cater for the additional cost of general education courses that may be more than 10 over the four years of an undergraduate’s education. In the past, college education was fairly affordable and payers did not have to spend a lot more extra money on such things as accommodation and upkeep (O’Banion 332). With the increasing costs in these areas, it is reasonable that general education courses not be made to be a requirement given their dwindling value in the life of a college student.


In conclusion, curriculum developers and education stakeholders should reconsider the place of general education classes for today’s college student. Even though these courses were initially developed to arm students with important skills and values and make them well rounded; technology, globalization and the increasing college expenses today have made it illogical to continue making students to take these courses. It is also evident that the concepts offered in this general education courses are duplicative of the ones that are gained through early education levels and everyday life. Instead of requiring all students to take general education courses, colleges may offer such courses only to those students who are yet to make definite decisions regarding their career paths. This way, general education courses will be helpful to everyone taking them as opposed to the absolute waste of time they are currently viewed as.

Works Cited

Erie, Deborah. The Role of General Education in the Development of Ethical Reasoning in College Students: A Qualitative Study on the Faculty Perspective. Dissertation, University of Nebraska, 2013. UMI, 2013.

Martorano, Elise. “General Education courses should not be required.” The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 16 Apr. 2014, Accessed 3 Nov. 2017.

O’Banion, Terry. “A brief history of general education.” Journal of Community College Journal of Research and Practice, vol. 40, no. 4, 2016, pp. 327-334.

Rosenberg, John. General Education under the Microscope. Harvard Magazine, 5 Jun. 2015,

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