Have you ever wondered why colleges require students to take elective courses to receive a degree? How will a class on the social construction of whiteness or a bowling elective help a student grow and succeed in the future?
A non-partisan nationwide network called Americans for Limited Government (ALG) said that eliminating some classes from course requirements will save taxpayers millions of dollars by shortening the time needed to graduate from California State University and University of California schools to two years.
The state university system demands a total of 180 units to graduate with a degree: approximately 60 general education units, 60 units in major-related courses and 60 elective units. Degree requirements vary because different majors have different courses to educate students in their area of study. Engineering, for example, has a substantial number of major courses, so electives are reduced in an effort to balance the 180-unit degree requirement.
Cal Poly Provost Robert Koob said general education courses are intended to give students a well-rounded education and the ability to see life from different perspectives.
“Brain research is showing that college years are when human beings, on the average, evolve,” he said.
“There are many ways of looking at the world and the way it fits together seems to change for us, so it’s important to think like a musician, mathematician, scientist, historian and social scientist.”
He also wants to give students a way to experience multiple fields of study.
“Not everybody is always going to be the same thing forever; we give people an opportunity to explore different areas within the university,” Koob said.
ALG media outreach director Alexander Rosenwald said some elective courses shouldn’t be offered at the expense of taxpayer dollars.
When there is a budget cut, he said he would expect the chancellor of education to put a primary focus on fundamental courses.
“You can keep the quality of education high while being cost-effective at the same time,” he said. “Eliminating electives would take college students a lot less money and time to graduate.”
Cal Poly President Warren Baker said some people have an assumption that electives are useless and don’t help students lead fulfilling lives.
“In this country, we have diverse higher education programs,” he said.
“The public believes that providing a college education contributes to developing the background and the knowledge that people need to promote a democracy and understand the relationship among various conditions.
“You have major courses, support courses and general education, and general education gives you the ability to understand what the political, social and cultural impact is likely to be for the project that you’re working on.”
Koob has plans to save the university money without eliminating any general education or elective requirements.
“The average Cal Poly student takes about two quarters longer than their program of study says it would be required of them in order to get a degree, so I would like to see that shortened,” he said.
“You need more education, not less, to enter today’s society as a contributing citizen. Most people, 25 years after graduating, will say that general education and different perspectives learned in college helped them deal with unexpected situations they ran across in their lifetime.”