When I advise students, I often feel like H&R Block when discussing the university core courses. All too often, students only need help checking boxes and filling out schedules. They think such courses will not help their careers; they are only “getting them out of the way.” There is certainly a great deal of fluff in that core, yet students fail to realize that a good education can be more beneficial than a business school credential.
I’m not alone is this frustration.
The Real Clear Politics essay “Good Thing I’m Not a History Major” by Professor Michael Hepner also laments this marginalization of “general education courses,” which deserves a louder drumbeat in education reform circles.
Hepner reports that only 25 percent of his students know the name of our current vice president, and that one student thought “Vince Carter was a peanut farmer”; this mirrors my own experiences. I’ve had students confuse Mao Zedong with Yao Ming. I’ve also had a few past students push back at my grammatical corrections on their work because “this isn’t an English class.” I wouldn’t be surprised if more students related the name Napoleon to Dynamite than to Bonaparte.
But this issue is not all the students’ faults.
High tuition costs force students and parents to view college in terms of its ROI; they see more dollar signs in marketing as opposed to history. If colleges want to retain the “life of the mind,” whole-person education, that mission needs to be effectively communicated to this current generation because they are not receiving that message. We have to face the reality that the majority of students are conditioned to go to college “to get a job.”