Have you ever spaced out in that English or math class you didn’t want to take and thought to yourself, “why am I taking this course even though I’m a _____ major?”
You’re not alone.
The South Dakota Board of Regents (SDBOR) is the leading culprit behind these requirements. In order to graduate from a South Dakota public university, the SDBOR mandates that you must take 30 credits of general education courses that satisfy six goals relating to Written Communication, Oral Communication, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Mathematics and Natural Sciences. You can see these in DegreeWorks listed as “Gen-Ed Requirements.”
It’s clear the SDBOR intended for gen-eds to make graduates more well-rounded. For example, their Social Sciences goal states, “Students will understand the organization, potential, and diversity of the human community through study of the social sciences.”
That seems like a noble cause. I’m not suggesting that the SDBOR wrote these goals as a pretext to generate more revenue. In fact, it’s probable the SDBOR had genuine intentions behind the policy.
However, the intentions behind forcing students to pay for 30 credit hours of courses not relating to their major does not affect the impact it has on the student body.
In monetary terms, gen-eds cost you somewhere in the ballpark of $9,432 or $12,942, depending on if you are eligible for in-state tuition. That’s a hefty price to pay to become a well-rounded person.
Looking at last year’s graduating class of around 1,280 students, assuming the average student paid $10,000 for gen-ed courses, USD made $12.8 million from general education requirements off of the class of 2023.
I’d rather pay ten grand toward the courses I’m interested in than have the SDBOR decide.
These requirements are not universal. The United Kingdom, in-large, does not impose general education requirements on their university students. In fact, a bachelor’s degree usually takes three years to complete, not four. Some ivy-league schools and tech schools, such as Brown or MIT, do not require general education requirements, but in some cases, require students take more courses in their major or more electives.
The most problematic aspect of gen-ed requirements isn’t even the cost. The merits of gen-ed requirements ultimately rest on whether it is the role of a university to make you a more well-rounded person. I argue that it is not: all of us went through at least twelve years of education that should have made us ready for society, independent of our decision to attend university. We have much larger problems if K-12 schools are not accomplishing their most basic function.
It’s easy to forget that we are the customer in this transaction, not the university and certainly not the SDBOR.
It is up to us to decide what we want to get out of our university experience. If you feel that taking a fine arts or natural science course will make you a better or more successful adult, then go for it! But the decision should be yours to make.
What do you really want out of university?