By Ryan Mercier
As universities across the country continue to raise tuition and fees, some students are asking what kind of value a general education program adds to an undergraduate degree.
At Worcester State, many undergraduates have expressed concern over the school’s general education program, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum (LASC), created in 2009. But those who worked on creating the program as well as many of those who have gone through it believe that it adds an element of academic rigor and important intellectual development to the undergraduate degree.
Even so, some students remain unconvinced.
“Too much time and money is put into classes that have little to no career based learning, which leaves little enthusiasm and time left to put into classes important for my future,” said Peter Boll, a junior business major at WSU.
Chris Lazzaro, a sophomore and occupational therapy major, echoed these concerns about the LASC requirements.
“Though the LASC requirements are a good way for students to experience new thoughts and gain knowledge on other professions, they are a road block, preventing one from obtaining a degree in a quick and efficient manner,” Lazarro said. “LASC requirements are detrimental to efficient learning and should be reserved for individual pleasure.”
While this may be a concern for students, WSU administrators do not determine the use of general education classes as a requisite for an undergraduate degree. NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, requires that all liberal arts students have at least 40 credits of general education to graduate.
However, WSU does have independence in determining what kind of program is used to accomplish these general education requirements. Accordingly, WSU brought in an external reviewer last month to evaluate multiple facets of the LASC program and is possibly looking to make slight changes in the future.
Dr. Anne Falke, WSU’s director of the LASC curriculum, was one of the key contributors to the overhaul of the university’s undergraduate general education program in 2009 with the introduction of LASC. The LASC program brought the amount of general education requirements down from a 60-credit distribution model — meaning that it was just a variety of classes in each discipline — to a 43 to 52 credit interdisciplinary model. This range of 43-52 credits depends on how a student gets his or her courses to line up, as the “Across the Curriculum” courses can count for two different LASC requirements.
“[The general education subcommittee] started talking about how we create a liberally educated student—what kind of courses and what kind of experiences are necessary?” Dr. Falke said of how the LASC program came into being. “We started soliciting ideas and people kind of put down a framework and then we put it out to the faculty, [asking] ‘what would you like to see in it, what would you like to see changed?’ and took the input from larger faculty groups and modeled it and made changes to address those concerns.”
While concerns about the program seem to be pervasive among undergraduate students, Dr. Falke states that she has not seen the program hinder anybody from graduating, as it is only a third of the overall 120 credits needed for graduation, and even combined with a normal major of around 50 credits, it still leaves room for students to explore other areas on their own. However, she does caution students against putting off courses which they might struggle in, as that may ultimately come back to hinder graduation if they do not pass. She, as well as many other faculty, see general education requirements as an important foundation for a student’s learning and growth.
“I think your general education program teaches you to, first off, write well, to communicate effectively in writing. I think that is a necessary foundation for any major,” Falke said. “Another thing is to develop critical thinking. I think that you have to see critical thinking in a variety of venues in order to really develop as a critical thinker when you come out.”
Some alumni of WSU also defend the LASC program as necessary for growth and development. Talar Aprahamian, a recent graduate of WSU University currently working at Notre Dame University in the multicultural student programs office doing benchmarking and research, says that her exploration into different fields of study through the LASC requirements opened her mind to the basic understanding of the world around her and has helped her immensely both in her two times studying abroad and in her new career.
“A good percentage of current students have lost the meaning and value of education, the power of knowledge, and how that can carry us through life,” Talar said. “Our education and college degrees will never not be valuable. Having categories such as LASC courses provides the ability and freedom to explore other departments and studies which we are not confined to.”
With such a diverse range of opinions on the LASC requirements, it will be interesting to see what the program review turns up and how it may be used to change the program. Falke said that any changes will be based off data but that she has some ideas on how the program could be improved.
“I would like to see our program designed to develop skills as you go along,” Falke said. “Everything is on the same level and we don’t work to introduce the skills that we think are necessary and then improve upon them, so I would like to see more vertical structure in there. It also hasn’t done so well at the interdisciplinarity so I would like to see more of that so students get a more integrative program. I think it could be developed to be more effective and be more useful to students, and I would like to see that.”
Dr. Falke is still waiting on the results from the program review, and says that they should be in within the next few weeks. She, as well as other staff and faculty, will use those results to determine if the program should be changed and how best to do that.
Until then, we would like to hear from you: What do you think of the LASC requirements at WSU? Do you think they should be changed, and, if so, how do you think they should change to be more beneficial for students? Send your ideas to the New Worcester Spy!