Opinion: How Credit Limits and General Education are Hindering Student Success

It’s your favorite time of the quarter — registering for your next set of classes. Nothing compares to the frantic feeling of watching your classes quickly fill up, waiting anxiously for your enrollment time and panicking about your spot on the waitlist for that class you need to graduate. The courses you take are probably based on two things: your college’s general education requirements and credit limits. These are both pillars of academic life at UC San Diego, but they hinder the fast completion of an undergraduate degree and they unfairly divide the student body.

General education courses are designed by higher education institutions to provide a well-rounded education, outside of one’s specific degree path, and to prepare students for upper division courses by developing skills such as communication, writing, and time management. UCSD is no different — the general education requirements include the analytical writing program and the diversity, equity, and inclusion course. These courses count toward the credit limit the University has set across campus: anywhere between 200 and 240 units, depending on your major. However, it has become apparent that the use of general education and credit limits have far less than the student’s best interest in mind.

The split of the student body into six different colleges is meant to create personalized, intimate communities in which each student can thrive. There is, however, one key difference between colleges that serves as a driving wedge between the unification of the student body: different general education requirements. On top of the university-wide general education requirements, each college mandates its own variously rigorous courses necessary for graduation. Multiple colleges are notorious for lengthy general education requirements: the five-course humanities sequence in Roger Revelle College or the five-course history sequence in Eleanor Roosevelt College, for example. Both ask students to take a hefty 25-30 units of general education courses, on top of the University’s requirements and their own degree programs. This difference shows in graduation statistics. Although UCSD does boast one of the best retention rates across the state, ERC and Revelle College are both in the running for the college with the highest dropout statistics, at only a 50-percent graduation rate, and it’s no wonder why.

Many of the skills that are stated to be developed in these courses are retained either previously in high school or in later lower-division courses, regardless of one’s degree path. In addition, without extensive general requirements, universities would likely be able to maintain graduation rates in less than four years, similar to other European countries who manage to integrate bachelor’s degrees into a mere three years. However, it is not necessary to do away with general education requirements completely — they do offer various educational opportunities and introduce students to concepts that may have never appeared in their major courses. It is important to standardize general education courses across colleges to maintain a universal student experience, and it is equally important to reduce extensive general education requirements to provide the most concise and well-rounded experience possible. There is no reason for a writing sequence to be five courses when two of those courses can count toward a student’s degree program or taking electives they would like to explore. Instead of requiring extensive regional specializations, mandate the same general education program in all six colleges, offering students the same variety of classes with professional and post-undergraduate applications that require writing and fulfill the requirement, but also meet their respective career interests.

These general education classes usually apply directly to your credit limitations- anywhere from 200 to 240 until you must go through a lengthy appeal process to enroll in more courses. Credit limitations, another factor in many students’ four year plans, are discreetly utilized by the university in order to maintain their four-year graduation rates, keeping our national and global rankings high as well as a factor in attracting potential freshmen. Graduation rates are a measure of accountability, highlighting the school’s ability to offer academic support to students effectively. In addition, they keep students from spending too much or too little time in University. Credit minimums allow the colleges to continue creating revenue and profit while developing the University infrastructure.

However, credit limits push unfair expectations on extremely different majors. While engineering students are expected to go above and beyond 180 units and can max out at 240, anthropology majors struggle to find classes to fill that requirement, pushing them to take over 23 elective classes just in order to graduate. There are also several rules in place concerning credit limits that also inhibit freedom to explore different career paths. Undergraduate students must declare a major before completing 90 units, and they cannot change majors upon completion of 150. This prevents students in particularly demanding majors with a heavy focus in prerequisites from changing majors once completing upper-division classes related to their intended career paths. If the requirements on this campus for writing courses, regional specializations, and general education courses are to remain high, credit limits must expand, or exclude those credits utilized in general education courses, in order to accommodate one’s degree classes and electives he or she wishes to take.

Credit limitations hinder students from taking classes that they may desire and instead push them to either take classes that they don’t want to or necessarily need to take for their career paths. In the case of students in more intensive majors, credit limitations stop students from taking classes outside their degree program that they may be interested in due to a lack of credits after general education and their degree mandations. General education requirements push students in rigorous career paths to scramble to complete all the courses necessary, preventing them from taking electives that they may be personally interested in or have professional applications, and in turn enforce unfair credit limits to both humanities and science, technology and math majors.  

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