According to a report released Sept. 7 by the General Education Faculty Committee, USC students often perceive the General Education program to be a “necessary evil.”
The current GE curriculum is fraught with issues, and the GE Faculty Committee has stepped up to the plate in an attempt to resolve these problems.
Unfortunately, the committee’s recommendations, from increasing the number of GE requirements to assigning students a separate GE grade point average, fail to properly and effectively improve the program.
There are numerous problems with USC’s current GE program. It imposes rigid requirements on students, including strict adherence to a 24-unit course load that cannot be taken at community college once a student arrives at USC. Many GE classes are far too large, often filling up an entire 150-person lecture hall. And the GE program, housed within the Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is largely isolated from the rest of the university.
Though the proposed reforms try to address this problem and others head-on, the committee’s recommendations not only fall short of fixing the real issues, they frustratingly create more complications.
For example, the committee recommends adding two more required GE classes on top of the six already in place. Requiring two more classes makes little sense and would just end up exacerbating the problems the program already faces. Students would have to spend more time completing their requirements, class sizes would remain large and the university would continue taking more money from students for classes in which they might express little interest.
Another committee recommendation calls for assigning a separate GPA for a student’s GE requirements. This would unnecessarily put at a disadvantage students who do not enjoy their GE classes and choose to focus on their major requirements rather than get a good grade in a GE course.
Perhaps the most useless proposal is to rename the GE program the “USC Literacies Program.” Such a superficial change would do nothing to actually improve the program.
If USC hopes students see the GE program as an engaging part of the curriculum rather than a burdensome set of classes that get in the way of “important” courses, the university must allow for more flexibility and better integration with USC’s professional schools.
The current inflexibility of the program unfairly forces most students to complete all their GE requirements at USC, taking away time they could devote toward other studies. Students are allowed to fulfill many of their GE requirements at a community college over a single summer — in between their high school graduation and the start of their freshman year — but most students are unaware of this rule until they enroll at USC. And once a student enrolls, the university prevents him or her from completing any GEs at a community college, except for the single diversity requirement.
A more flexible GE program should allow students to take more of their GE requirements at community colleges over the summer until they earn their degrees. Students who choose to take their GEs at USC would enjoy smaller classes, which would increase professors’ effectiveness and students’ engagement. Not to mention students would have more room in their schedules to explore secondary interests by picking up a minor or second major.
Additionally, the GE program would be most effective if it were better integrated with USC’s professional schools. Though the committee recommends allowing faculty from the professional schools to teach as a part of the GE program, this would only allow for liberal arts-related courses to be included in the GE curriculum. Through better integration with the wider academic breadth of the university, USC would ensure that all students, regardless of their majors, have exposure to more than liberal arts courses. For example, a chemical engineering major would be able to pursue her interest in economics, international relations and music under the GE umbrella.
The time has come for USC to revamp its GE program in order to make it truly amenable to students’ needs. While it’s encouraging that the university has taken proactive steps forward, much more action is needed to truly move the GE requirements in the right direction.
And that action is not just the university’s responsibility. In order for the program to be more in touch with students’ needs, students must make their needs heard. Students have until Oct. 1 to provide feedback about the committee’s recommendations on the GE review website: GE-Review.usc.edu/feedback.
Neeraj Periwal is a junior majoring in business administration and international relations.