Universities should not require courses outside of intended major

Émile Naoumoff performed in Morphy Recital Hall in the Humanities Building.

Image By: Kaitlyn Veto and Kaitlyn Veto

There seems to be two philosophical approaches to education. One, most prominently espoused by Gov. Scott Walker, is that higher education should primarily focus on preparing students for their career. The other, particularly embedded within UW-Madison, is that higher education is meant for intellectual exploration, gaining breadth in the liberal arts, becoming “culturally competent” and graduating a “well-rounded” person and citizen.

Both of these approaches to education are valid, but it seems like the current education debate in Wisconsin centers around which approach is objectively better or more valuable. The answer is that neither approach is objectively better because different people want different things out of the education system.

I personally want an education that focuses on career training. As someone interested in working in finance, there are really only four subject areas that have relevance to me: mathematics, finance, economics and computer science. Everything else is close to useless for me, so I would ideally only take classes in these areas. If I reached major-level depth in all four of these instead of just the two I can complete in the current system, I would be far better qualified and prepared for my career than I will be at graduation.

Substantial depth in economics and computer science is worth far more to me and employers than surface-level breadth in the humanities, literature, sciences, English and general business topics.

Such is impossible given the current structure of education. There is no degree to recognize completion of all of the courses required for a major. There are merely comprehensive four-year degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Business Administration and so on. And attached to each of these four-year degrees is a plethora of largely irrelevant requirements, most of which are aimed at fulfilling the “well-rounded” educational philosophy many have. Fulfilling these requirements takes time and money, and for those of us who are taking a class merely because we have to, we’ll graduate with proof that we can learn information and regurgitate it on the exam—not with actual knowledge or skills that we couldn’t reacquire in a few hours.

Moving forward, we need to separate these two approaches to education and allow the student to choose whichever one they want to pursue. There shouldn’t be specific requirements that literally every student needs to complete just because some authority thinks such a requirement will make the student a better person.

I realize many people believe universities should breed well-rounded intellectuals who love learning and studying a wide range of subjects, but there doesn’t have to be one defining purpose of a university–especially of a public university that is partially state-funded. We can educate some students to prepare them for a career, and others to help them become well-rounded intellectuals.

Consequently, I suggest that we create a university system which allows all types of students to directly pursue the education they want and need. If a student wants to take classes in a lot of areas and satisfy requirements to become a well-rounded, culturally competent individual, they should by all means be able to. They can graduate with a traditional Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences degree.

For the more career-oriented student, an option to graduate with something that certifies their proficiency at the undergraduate level in the subject areas they choose should exist.

There aren’t many costs, if any, to implementing such a system. Changing the options that students have shouldn’t cost any money. The reason such a system doesn’t exist is because universities across the nation don’t want their purpose to be job training. They want to cultivate well-rounded intellectuals and thrust them into the world with a wealth of knowledge.

As a result of this goal, someone who just wants career training (in an academic discipline, not a trade) has to satisfy numerous other requirements that are irrelevant or useless to them just to get the career training they want.

In Wisconsin, both Republicans and the UW System need to accept the validity of each other’s vision for education. Walker and the legislature need to allow liberal arts educations to coexist alongside career training, and the university system needs to accept that some students simply want a focused education that gives them depth in a few subject areas. Once this happens, we can have an education system that works for all students.

Tim is a sophomore majoring in finance and economics. Do you think that students should have to take "general education" courses while attending a university? Do you think narrowing the focus of degree plans would benefit students? Let us know at opiniondailycardinal.com. 

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