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Gen Ed Requirements: Gatekeeping Speciality or Forging Good Citizens?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at GCU chapter.

Where do Gen eds come from?

To understand the background of Gen Eds, we must first examine the history of universities themselves, which begins in the medieval period.

There have always been teachers and students, but there wasn’t an organizational body until around 1100. Unsurprisingly, one of the first universities was formed in Paris, France—and the other was in Bologna, Italy. These two institutions were designed to protect students and the sanctity of knowledge. Students of this time were typically wealthy upper-class foreigners who traveled across Europe. In the medieval period, it was easy to bully, target, incarcerate, banish, or kill these foreigners; not many laws were created to protect them. Thus, the university, a large body of these foreigners, would protect these students and give them a community to depend upon. Additionally, opinions and topics that were typically taboo and would entail punishment from local authorities were protected, meaning that education could be limited but, more importantly, complete.

Although the university in Paris focused more on teaching clergy and religion, the university in Bologna focused more on teaching law, specifically Roman law. These differences marketed the same idea to the same type of people: that education separated class, and leaders in various sects should be enlightened in a way not accessible to the common folk. As the university organization began to grow, these ideas were reinforced. There became a systematic way that scholars would learn, founded on the philosophical belief that liberal education was the process of grasping all fields of creation determined by God.

Although the modern university is more secular than not, the religious foundations of the medieval university required education similar to what we would find today. Subjects included verbal, which included grammar, logic, and rhetoric, mathematical, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. Teachers were required to earn a bachelor’s degree, so the scholar could specialize in theology, medicine, or law. These would be the foundations for what we know today as general education requirements: the foundations of a liberal education.


Most college students transition to university straight out of high school, only a short segment of the strenuous 13 years of pre-secondary education Americans are required to receive. Throughout high school, students are promised that post-secondary will be different, classes will be more difficult, life will demand more independence, and most importantly, students will be able to specialize. This last promise sells the idea of constant interest to the student: high school curriculums mandated pottery classes and P.E., but at least universities will only teach you what you need to know, right? Wrong.

Specializing is vital to students for two reasons: interest and money. In most cases, students pick their majors or programs according to what direction they want to take in life. Even the decision to attend a university indicates that their chosen career or purpose requires it. Historically, universities have always been expensive, which hasn’t changed. The expenses required to purchase a liberal education degree are often a decades-long journey to pay, which students are constantly reminded of as the modern economy takes a turn for the worse. The stress of the poor financial situations of most college students is no doubt worsened when they end up sitting in a class that has nothing to do with what they are paying for.

Gen-Eds require business majors to take chemistry classes, English majors to take mathematics classes, biology majors to take English composition classes, etc. In Arizona, universities must include 35-37 credits (according to major) of general education courses, most up to the university’s discretion. Grand Canyon University requires 34-40 (pg. 49-50). A standard undergraduate degree given by GCU is 120 credits and is worth approximately $66,000 for 4 years (8 semesters, 15 credits per semester). It is important to note that this sum does not include lab fees, room and board, lesson fees, and other financial expenses GCU may require. Up to $22,000 for an undergraduate degree at GCU will consist of classes that the student has not chosen and which may or may not have anything to do with the student’s major.

The financial burden of Gen-Eds is the primary concern of most critics, coupled with the fact that there is no other option for most students. It is easy to respond to these criticisms by suggesting a technical school instead, where there are few, if any, Gen-Eds the student is required to take, or simply joining the labor force with only a high school degree. Although these options are viable for select individuals, technical schools won’t provide the credentials for those with higher ambitions. The bachelor’s degree is the main gateway into upper-class careers and class mobility in general. In America, it is impossible to become a doctor without first taking English Composition II. Then why are Gen-Eds still required?


The main argument for Gen-Eds stems from one conclusion: education creates a more capable citizen. The purpose of the university has always been to create an informed, qualified leadership class not only capable of success in their career but in other areas as well. A simple application of this concept would be to ask who a better leader would be: one who specialized in agriculture alone, or one who had a broad knowledge of agriculture, mathematics, English, the arts, etc.?

Careers associated with a liberal education are doctors, lawyers, bankers, and CEOs, and careers associated with technical education are electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Although the latter are of incredible worth and importance to society in their own right, the former requires more skill and social intelligence. The reason why the undergraduate degree is not obtained like the technical degree is because no artist would want to be defended by a lawyer who doesn’t care about art, no company would publish an author who doesn’t understand finance, and no institution would hire a banker who didn’t understand the psychology of who they lend to.

All of this is to say that education inspires care and empathy among its students. A proper citizen should be empathetic towards their peers; if they are not, society would be less functional. The careers gatekept by the bachelor’s are typically based on interacting with people. The theory is that by receiving general instruction over the broad spectrum of knowledge, the student would retain a broad empathy and care for the world and people around them. Further connections can be made within these courses.

In Gen-Eds, students are placed in large classes with different majors. This is unique because as post-secondary continues, students will tend to be weeded out. Students will only work with other students in their major towards the end of their education, which, although it can inspire comradery, can also inspire competition. Simply put, the personalities of different majors are completely unique in their own right. Friendship with the business majors is more suited to one individual than to their pre-med program peers. Furthermore, the connections built in college can impact the future; befriending the accounting major may save a deal of trouble when tax season approaches, for example.

Finally, the presence of Gen-Eds allows for a transition period for college students, those with egregious study habits, and those who aren’t sure of their major. The semesters between college starting and being locked into a major are crucial for mobility between areas of study. For some, committing to one path for life seems daunting, and this transitional period can hopefully provide guidance. Additional time is also crucial to improve study habits and get accustomed to independence.

So What?

The main controversy of Gen-Eds is the fact that there is no other choice in the matter; you must take A to get to B. But the question arises: if it were possible to attain career success utilizing a technical degree rather than a liberal one, how many would take it? Finance aside, who would willingly put themselves through more education than required if all that was gained were the chance of better personhood? How many leaders would be produced with little to no care for what they did not study? What kind of society would there be without a liberal education?

Louise Monson is a freshman at GCU; a nutrition major intending on going to medical school. She moved from Southern Minnesota and is loving every second away from that cold, white stuff. A morning person by heart, she is most often found awake and running around campus by 5:00am and safe and snug in bed by 8:30pm. In between is spent reading, studying, or playing on the Switch.