On Feb. 18, the everyday motions of the student body came to a sudden halt. Word had traveled throughout the attendants of the school that UC San Diego’s infamous course enrollment program, WebReg, broke. Again. This glitch in the program allowed students to exceed the first-pass unit limit and enroll in more courses without limitations. Thankfully, those who went over their first-pass limit were unenrolled in the classes they were able to enroll in during the glitch. Still, as fearful students rushed to see if their essential classes had filled up and would have to wait for another year to complete the five-course writing sequence required for their general education, one thought crossed my mind: Why?
Why are some students required to take a five-course writing sequence while others are not? Why are our general-education requirements becoming a hindrance to our academic experience, instead of an extension of it? Why do required classes not have enough seats for all the students for whom these classes are mandatory?
Given that some colleges’ GE requirements can add up to 80 units, which is almost half of the units required for an undergraduate degree at UCSD, it is clear that the university should reduce and rethink the distribution of its general-education requirements in order to maintain a balance between colleges, focus on enhancing learning, and make GEs less of a chore.
Here’s a little history of why colleges have GEs in the first place. The start of the general-education movement began in the 1930s and consisted of a group of influential professors and administrators who sought to revive the humanities’ ideas of liberal education in higher education. The president of the University of Chicago in 1930, Robert Maynard Hutchins, criticized universities that only trained students for their jobs and argued that students should also learn to express themselves clearly and acquire the important skills of effective thinking by taking courses outside of their respective fields. Later on, universities started to develop general-education requirements based on their mission and values. Since the University of California system was founded in the ‘60s, each university was founded with some general-education standards.
While STEM majors should learn how to write a decent essay and liberal-art students should know basic algebra, realistically, the number of classes they are forced to take does nothing to prepare them for their careers. Most students do not learn financial literacy and other crucial skills from their general-education courses, which is critical given the capitalist system we live in. While the foundational goals of GEs remain important, the expansion of the requirements has become excessive. Instead, general-education requirements push courses that focus on memorizing facts.
Although the initial creation of general-education requirements was intended to better prepare students for the real world, it is apparent that they are no longer about creating well-rounded students but about forcing students to fork over more cash to pay for these mandatory courses.
Considering students who directly enroll in a four-year university after high school spend up to two years taking their general-education courses, if these requirements were reduced, it could easily save almost a year’s worth of tuition.
If general-education requirements were truly about exposing students to different fields of study, why are credits from AP/IB classes not widely accepted, since they are proof of comprehension of different subjects? For example, at UCSD, credit from some high school science classes, such as AP Environmental Science, does not transfer over and fulfill some colleges’ natural science requirements.
At UCSD, Roger Revelle College and Eleanor Roosevelt College are well-known for their writing-intensive courses. These five-course writing sequences take until the end of students’ second year to complete, at the earliest. However, as many have experienced, sometimes getting the classes they need to fulfill these requirements is a challenge on its own.
Jill Murillo, a Roger Revelle College junior majoring in general biology, shared her experience with being unable to take Humanities (Hum) 2, a course only offered during Spring Quarter.
“My first year, I was waitlisted for Hum 2; I’m not sure if class sizes were different from in-person versus online or my first/second passes were just not in my favor, but I was like [second] on the waitlist; of course, no one dropped the class,” Murillo said.
Due to complications during the transition to online classes during Spring Quarter 2020, Murillo was unable to complete Hum 2 during her second year.
Now, as a junior, she is finally able to take the course and will finish the five-course writing sequence in the spring of her senior year. The fact that her experience is not unique indicates a major flaw: required classes do not have enough seats for all students that are required to take them. This problem is not only infuriating for those having to register for classes, but also mildly confusing.
With all that said, UCSD needs to seriously reconsider the immensely flawed distribution of GEs between its colleges. The dramatic disparity between the colleges’ GEs is appalling. From Revelle’s nearly 80-unit requirement to Marshall’s roughly 60 units, there is no doubt that the system is unfair.
“It doesn’t make sense how someone’s college experience at the same school for the same major can be wildly different just because of GEs,” Murillo said. “There’s nothing wrong with taking humanities or language or chem or physics. All are important, and everyone should be exposed to those subjects at some point, but the length of time it takes to complete those course series is the [difficult part].”
Serious reformation needs to take place at the university. Reducing the number of GEs in the colleges that have disproportionate amounts compared to others is a first. However, more holistically, the issue regarding general education brings up another problem: the college system at UCSD is flawed. Some GEs complement some majors, while others are drowning in busywork that won’t help them in the future. While it is understandable that UCSD might want to conserve the structure that makes them stand out in the UC system, their students’ education should come first.
Simply put: students of the same majors should have the same general-education requirements. Whether this means dismantling the pre-existing college system at UCSD or changing the way academic advising and scheduling is executed are questions the university should ask itself, if and when they decide to make these necessary changes.
UCSD, it is obvious that these issues cannot be fixed overnight. It’s understandable that it will probably take a couple of years to address and remedy them. In the meantime, maybe just try to fix WebReg. Unless your computer science majors are too busy writing their four-to-six page essay on “The Odyssey” due Sunday at 11:59 p.m.
Art by Andrew Deep for the UC San Diego Guardian.