When students first move into their dorms and get settled, most of them will have considered what it is they will be studying in the next four years. If not, they have to figure it out by the end of their second year, as is often required by universities. The need to devote oneself to a major can cause stress to many students who may not be sure what they want to pour four years worth of effort into.
Not only must students choose from a wide variety of fields to focus on, but they simply cannot anticipate what changes they may undergo throughout their time in college. This is likely a large contributor to why the average college student changes majors three times, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Besides the stress of picking a major and anticipating the future, every major comes laden with a set of fairly strict requirements. This varies by major, with certain majors so stringent and inflexible that students must follow a certain schedule to the letter, under threat of taking more than four years to graduate.
Others are somewhat flexible, although one must still go through at least 57 general education requirement credits—60-69 for those whose BAs require them to take a language. When all is accounted for, a student may have as few as nine credits to choose from for electives: three classes out of the 40 required to graduate.
The reason so much is required for any particular major is because of a variety of regulatory bodies, government policies and independent organizations that influence what is regarded as “necessary” education. The Department of Education, the American Medical Association, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and other accreditation agencies all have certain ideas of what someone must learn in all or specific fields.
For example, with West Chester’s recent reaccreditation by the AACSB, this means the continuation of a set of required courses for everyone in the College of Business, including several courses in management, accounting, business law, etc.
What does this mean for the economics major who wants to be the next Milton Friedman or John Maynard Keynes? Rather than having the freedom to devote plenty of their energy to the study of economic theory and research, they must devote some 20-30 credits beyond their gen-eds to marketing, management, and accounting courses which have no bearing on the workings of the macro-economy.
What of the pre-med biology major who dreams of heart surgery? Well, beyond the anatomy of humans, the American Medical Association dictates they must also learn that of other animals, plants and a study of chemistry much better suited for an experimental chemist than one who must simply know the physiological effects of certain substances.
Some of these requirements, you could argue, are understandable. Should an economist understand how to evaluate assets and liabilities? Maybe. Should a heart surgeon know the inner workings of flower reproduction? A bit of a stretch, but perhaps.
The main issue with this line of thinking is that it relies on the responsibility of institutions to determine what is best for everyone to learn, rather than individuals deciding that for themselves. The value of an individual’s passion to learn is ignored, or at best, valued less than the opinion of an elite group on how one should learn.
This is just one issue in the field of educational philosophy, and it’s not something that can be fully fleshed out in a Quad article. However, I think I can rely on the anecdotal experiences of the readers here in my claim that nearly all of you would have a much different list of courses if you could pick every class without restriction.
Would that be good or bad? It would likely depend on the individual. One could easily hypothesize someone taking 100 credits in underwater basket weaving, with a few credits in communications, perhaps, or some other outrageous major. Most people willing to shell out the money for college are here to develop themselves as an academic, a professional or as someone pursuing a passion without any set aim as a job.
Most people will probably not take all of their courses in just one topic, but may supplement it with other passions they have. Maybe the budding economist has a passion for music, or the future heart surgeon enjoys cooking, and each might choose to take a performance class or get in a kitchen.
Relying on the choices of individuals in directing their studies used to be a hallmark of liberal education. The countless advancements in academia, industry, science and art that came out of the Enlightenment era and onward were from people who pursued a passion and studied it of their own volition, with expert mentorship and support from the world’s smartest in the field. Educational institutions were not as much seen as directors of individual education but facilitators of what the individual chose to learn.
Our educational institutions have become obsessed with what students “should” learn, either as part of their chosen field or as a supplement. Every student should read the classics, be able to find a confidence interval and know that F=MA. Every economist should have five management courses, even if they never want to run a business. Every future doctor should learn the anatomy of a flower, even if they may never do more than buy them for their loved ones. Every mathematician should take physics and computer science, even if they want to focus on abstract number theory (that’s a personal one for me).
A few years ago, there was a committee of West Chester professors that met and discussed a potential change to the curriculum. Two professors were from the Honors College, and they pushed for a radical change in our curriculum that would reduce gen-ed requirements—make them more interdisciplinary as to appeal to a broader range of students—and thus leave more room for individual choice in classes. After a long time of debate, the committee eventually watered this idea down to a single “interdisciplinary requirement,” and everything else is the same.
Were we ever consulted on this? Well, the two Honors professors took input from the student populace, but the others were convinced they knew what is best for us and refused to budge. So we will continue to pay their salaries and do as they tell us to until we get our piece of paper and leave West Chester.
Of course, we could also demand that we get what we pay for from West Chester. According to the mission statement, which may be subject to change as President Fiorentino recently announced, West Chester is “committed to providing access and offering high-quality undergraduate education.”
If we feel like our education is not to our liking, we can demand change; although, given the bureaucratic nature of the state school system, it will likely require lots of students speaking up about what they want and making it known we will make efforts to change it. Given how mobilized the student populace was for the Anti-Trump protests and our teacher’s union, I have some hope that maybe something can be done.
Because I am not taking another goddamn statistics class.
Alexander Habbart is a second-year student majoring in economics, math and finance. He can be reached at AH855541@wcupa.edu.