A look at IWU’s Gen. Ed. program

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Amelia Smith, Columnist

 

As a senior who is barely graduating this May after three semesters of overloading in order to finish all my of General Education requirements, I wanted to reflect on my experience with the Gen. Ed. program at Illinois Wesleyan University.

I would like to preface my piece with the statement that I am a defender of the idea of a general education program. I think that requiring students to take a wide variety of courses, especially
outside of their comfort zones, encourages not only the development of critical thinking skills but creates opportunities for students to explore fields they may not have considered before. I want IWU to have a general education program—it creates well-rounded students who are more prepared for entering graduate school and life after college.

Still, I feel that there are some flaws in the current program at IWU. I have heard talk about changing the program, and I wanted to share my experience in how the general education program, as it stands, punishes students that already have a wide range of interests.
One problem of the system is that it creates a situation in which some classes that should, or could, qualify as a Gen. Ed. do not because they are classes designed “for majors” and assigning a Gen. Ed. would mean that students outside of the major would flood the course.

While I understand some of the reasoning behind this tendency to not assign Gen. Ed. credits to these courses, as someone who came to IWU as an art major, after my first semester and two art courses I still did not have an art Gen. Ed. A lot of courses that I had taken for my original double major didn’t count as Gen. Ed.s, and I found myself in a tight position when I switched to a new major and minor.

Over and over again I have not been able to take courses that I have been interested in (outside of my major) because I needed a Gen. Ed. Some of this problem resulted from my taking a wide variety of classes in different departments without any regard to Gen. Ed.s my sophomore year. But this behavior of exploring different departments is part of what I think the general education program should encourage. I hear a lot of students complaining about their Gen. Ed. courses and a lot of these complaints stem from the fact that they have to take a course they are not particularly interested in. While some of this is unavoidable, I do think there is a way to mitigate this feeling of being “forced” into classes.

One of the requirements for graduation that I think does do a good job of encouraging exploration and development outside of students’ comfort zones is that of the requirement for 300 level courses outside of their major. Within this requirement, I was able to take courses
that I was interested in but also counted towards my graduation requirements.

This requirement pushes students to take challenging courses that may be in fields outside of what they’re familiar with, but gives them a wide range of freedom in picking what topics those
courses are on.

This 300 level requirement is not enough for a Gen. Ed. program, obviously, because you could take all of your additional 300 levels in a single department, as long as it is outside of your major. But I think there may be a happy medium to be reached here, which isn’t as restrictive as the current Gen. Ed. program, but is more restrictive than the 300 level requirement. Unfortunately some of the Gen. Ed. requirements do feel constrictive, to the point where it was hard for me to find a class meeting the Physical Science criteria.

It may not be possible to have a perfect program that encourages people to explore but also does not punish those who are interested in a wide variety of fields already, but I do think there can be something better than what we already have.