Make Some General Changes

UCSD is one of the few major universities that has adapted the college system, and with it, a unique set of general education requirements for each college. These dreaded GEs are something we all have to deal with eventually, but they are somewhat of a grab bag. General education requirements vary far too much between colleges — the creation of a set of standardized requirements is more likely to be effective in achieving a broad curriculum.

UCSD adopted the college system to create individual “traditions, general-education requirements, and distinctive educational philosophies” within the campus. According to the UCSD general catalog, “the choice of a college is not based on a student’s major, but on preferences in terms of the various educational philosophies offered by the colleges.” For example, Thurgood Marshall College focuses on social justice while Eleanor Roosevelt College strives to create the “global citizen.” General education requirements are beneficial in requiring students to take classes in subject areas that they may not explore otherwise, but a single set of simplified requirements would be more likely to develop well rounded students across colleges at UCSD.

A simple tally of units is all it takes to realize the differences. Revelle College tops the list of general education requirements with a foreign language requirement and 72 units of general education requirements in the fields of writing, math, natural science, American culture, social science and fine art. Sixth and Warren colleges both require 72 units but their required courses vary greatly, and the GE requirements at Warren are reduced to 48 units for engineering majors to help them graduate on time. ERC requires a foreign language series as well as 60 units worth of courses that embrace multiculturalism and the “making of the modern world”. Marshall College has 60 units of courses that center around social activism and Muir College has the fewest requirements with 56 units.

Clearly, a degree from one college is in no way equivalent to a degree at another. Both the breadth and scope of general education requirements lack consistency between colleges. The pure number of courses, offered obstensibly to achieve the same goal of “broadening the student perspective” makes GEs somewhat of a wild card.

In a 2012 survey of graduating seniors taken by the UCSD Department of Student Research and Information Student Affairs, only 78 percent of students claimed they gained knowledge of people from different races and cultures, and only 68 percent satisfied were satisfied with their general education requirements. General education classes such as the “Dimensions of Culture” series at Thurgood Marshall College aim to give students knowledge in these areas, but clearly are not completely achieving their goals. A streamlined curriculum designed to effectively embody the principles of UCSD as a whole may be more effective.

Not only are general education requirements inconsistent between colleges, they are also constantly changing. Just two years ago, the Making of the Modern World history series requirement for ERC was reduced from six courses to five due to budget cuts. Although many ERC students were ecstatic at the thought of taking one fewer rigorous writing course, a move like this causes one to question the true necessity of each GE course if they are the first to get the axe.

General education requirements may just be drowning students in unnecessary work that distracts them from their major field of study. For majors such as communications, which requires only 16 courses, there may be room for GEs, but for other majors, graduating in four years is difficult enough without the burden of general education requirements. The average engineer, for example, has to take 200 units worth of courses, only offered during certain quarters, that must be taken in a very specific order. In these cases, students may have to extend their time at the university and dish out even more tuition money. The university does recognize this problem, and has a form for inter-college transfer requests. A student can request a transfer if there is a “desirable and necessary” need and can graduate two or more quarters earlier.

In this way, the university recognizes the great differences between general education requirements and is inadvertently trying to solve a problem it did not mean to create. Normalizing the system would be a more effective way to get rid of the problem completely. The University of Cambridge, for example, which has 31 different colleges, takes advantage of the personalized education and community of the college system while maintaining the same graduation requirements.

To ensure that students of all colleges receive an equally beneficial, well-rounded education, UCSD should develop a single set of general education requirements. These requirements should be manageable for students of all majors. They will allow students to gain the scope of knowledge that comes only from taking a wide assortment of classes without creating the pressure of choosing the “easiest college.”

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