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There are quite a few students who believe the university uses GenEd requirements as a way to take more tuition money from everyone than is needed.

The GenEd system is required for all undergraduate students at JMU. Two columnists debate on whether these classes are necessary.

Why GenEds are beneficial for every students’ education

Eliza MacKnight | The Breeze

A number of students complain about the requirement to take general education courses that don’t relate to their major, especially at JMU, where the GenEd classes are often rigorous. Many believe these classes don’t contribute valuable information to students’ education and that they’re just an excuse for the school to require everyone to stay longer than what’s required for their major. There are quite a few students who believe the university uses GenEd requirements as a way to take more tuition money from everyone than is needed.

While trying to get into popular GenEd courses and attempting to fit them into already busy class schedules is a hassle of its own, GenEds are actually important to the process of creating both a well-rounded student and individual. Beyond this, offering a rigorous course load in these classes ensures it’s worth it for each student to put full effort into them.

It’s not always ideal to take a class that utilizes skills primarily related to English or history as a STEM major or vice versa, but there are benefits to doing so that most people don’t consider. GenEds are an effective way to force students to expose themselves to subjects they might not be as familiar with. Not only does this allow for each student to increase their knowledge and expand their horizons, it also can help them find something they’re passionate about and want to pursue as a career.

Most universities now offer the option to come into college as an undeclared major, so it’s important for those who choose that route to be able to take a wide variety of classes and subjects so they can narrow their interests to a specific field. These GenEd classes are what will aid students in choosing the right major for the rest of their college years. Without GenEds, and without having them as difficult as they are at JMU, it would be a challenge for students unsure of what they want as a career to choose one effectively.

Beyond the logistical side of them, GenEds serve as a gateway to becoming a well-rounded individual and enlightened citizen. There’s an abundance of events going on in the world and numerous different angles through which they can be observed. It would fail the students to create a college program in which no one was required to take classes that didn’t directly correlate with their chosen major. It would prevent anyone from being able to connect with people who weren’t solely interested in the same field as them. Even if it just covers the basics of what the topic is all about, it’s important for students to have knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. All in all, GenEds are the key to creating well-rounded, employable young adults, and that shouldn’t change.

Eliza MacKnight is a sophomore psychology major. Contact Eliza at macknieg@dukes.jmu.edu.

The GenEd system should not be mandatory

Apurva Shrestha | contributing columnist 

The General Education system is a mandatory program in which students must take a multitude of classes in various disciplines in order to get their degree. The university's mission is to create “informed global citizens of the 21st century.” If one reads between the lines, the cynic will say that while many professors certainly might believe in the idealistic goals of the program, the real reason it’s promoted so heavily is because it means more tuition revenue for the university.

Universities can improve the community, provide personal growth to individuals and offer an excellent education, but they’re still businesses at the end of the day. Nonprofits don’t charge $26,000 a year for in state tuition and other costs. And because they’re businesses, they’re bound to the profit motive, which is a business' motivation to maximize its revenue. JMU has a huge incentive to not cut out the mandatory nature of the GenEds. It would reduce the time students would need to spend at college to roughly two years, the average amount of time it takes for students to finish their GenEd classes. No university would be happy losing out on $52,000 over the course of two years.

There’s admittedly a sizeable chunk of students who support the program. However, if they think taking all those extra classes is worth $52,000, let it be their decision to make. A large number of students see little point in taking fringe subjects or any classes not relevant to their lives and wish they didn’t also have to drink the GenEd kool-aid. Such students may not need to try out a bit of everything because they’re sure of what they major in. Others believe they’re already well-rounded. Because there are so numerous and varied reasons not to take GenEd classes, it doesn’t make sense to hold everyone to an inflexible and unnecessary standard.

There are some students who may simply not want to take a class because of a lack of interest or desire. The JMU administration should unreservedly respect such a desire to skip GenEds. After all, students are adults and are capable of making the independent decision of whether they think a GenEd class will be beneficial. It could be an unwise decision, but that is their decision to make. Furthermore, the beauty of making the GenEd system non-mandatory is that it still exists for people who have a need or want for it.

Something must be done about a system in which someone studying to be an accountant is forced to take a class about King Lear or Beowulf. People are perfectly capable of learning about Old English literature by themselves if they so choose; universities shouldn’t take the role of forcibly expanding student’s horizons. Many students aren’t interested in spending thousands of dollars a semester to become worldly, cultured, erudite citizens and there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re simply here to learn practical, applicable skills and become competitive in the job market.

Granted, general education certainly should play a role in society. But its place is correctly in high school, where students have to take basic courses in history, science, math and so on in order to become educated members of society. College is supposed to be where you pick your path and specialize in it. It’s precisely because of job specialization that people no longer need to be subpar generalists, but can rather call a plumber to fix a chemical leak or hire a lawyer to handle legal matters. For situations that aren’t as pressing, the truth of the matter is that a simple Google search can save us many semesters’ worth of time and resources.

People talk all the time about how appalling the cost of going to college is, yet few seem to offer any solutions. Removing the mandatory GenEd requirements would be one surefire and tangible way to cut down the cost of college for the average person. There are many professors who’d undoubtedly recognize the fairness of a non-mandatory system or would much prefer a system in which the only students in their classes are the ones who want to be there.

But overall, it’s unlikely that many professors whose jobs rely on a steady stream of forced students to exist will support making the GenEd system voluntary. Others will resist change simply because a GenEd program is the established norm when it comes to colleges, and would give little thought to the fact that many students struggling financially may not be able to afford the luxury of taking classes to “expand their worldview” and subsequently drop out.

It’s time to take colleges off a pedestal and treat them as they are — financial institutions here to make money. Ivory tower academia is notorious for being out of touch with the common man, and tenured professors who’ve spend their entire lives marinating in the thought bubble that is higher level education will hardly listen to such a proposal unless people speak with their tuition money.

Ultimately, time will eventually reveal the answer to the question of what the better method is. Either it’ll reach a point when people stop going to college because of the enormous price or it’ll turn out that the job market really does value students who’ve taken 60 credits of things like “Introduction to Africana Studies” or “Survey of World Art”. Realists will keep the $52,000.

Apurva Shrestha is a sophomore international affairs major. Contact Apurva at shrestal@dukes.jmu.edu.