Rethinking general studies

Pradyot Sharma


Editors Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Tropolitan or its staff members. Address responses and critiques to

A comprehensive general education program is overwhelmingly popular in many colleges and universities in the United States. All students at Troy are required to take general education classes.

The effectiveness of this program has been called into question according to surveys and focus groups at other colleges. In a study conducted at Wayne State University, an overwhelming response from the student body suggested that they were unsure about the necessity of the general education classes. Similarly, a study conducted at the Ohio State University, which has one of the best ranked general education programs in the country, showed that general education needed to be updated.

Nevertheless, Ohio State’s program is based on learning objectives and faculty prioritized meeting those objectives.

The approach for many students with general studies classes has been to take it as a requirement that needs to be fulfilled rather than an opportunity to enhance their learning opportunities.

According to Troy University’s website, “The General Studies Program is designed to provide a fundamental basis for lifelong learning and advanced studies.”

Unfortunately, there are no clearly defined objectives when it comes to Troy’s general studies program. While general education is broken down into different areas of learning, there is no predefined learning outcomes for each area of study. 

Students may be required to take a science class or a literature class with the argument that it broadens their perspective, but unless it is clearly communicated as to why and how it does that, randomly expecting a student to take that class isn’t going to be beneficial. 

Unlike taking classes in their major discipline, students that take general studies classes are not necessarily wired to learn a subject over a semester or two. What may be the optimal way to teach World History to a history major will not be the same for a business major. 

Teaching general education classes go beyond teaching a subject to a student; it also involves having students appreciate the perspective and applicability of a subject. Yet most of the general studies classes we have also serve as introductory classes for other majors. The objectives and understanding process and applicability are different for both groups of students.

Improving the curriculum then requires track specific programs. For instance, rather than have music majors take a Physics I class, why don’t we introduce the subject to them through a class like the physics of music where students can understand the application of the science to their subject. Faculty, student and administration initiative on this can help the university develop more holistic curriculums that benefit the student body rather than make it a chore. 

Moreover, this will help develop students in a way to appreciate how different disciplines build into their area of study. 

Improving the general education program should be a priority for the university, considering the cost of education today. Without targeted learning opportunities and clearly defined learning goals, students will be spending thousands of dollars towards taking classes that do not enhance their learning. 

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