Why Are General Education Courses Important?

A woman studying general education courses in a university library.

In the past, while looking over a course list you may have wondered why certain courses are required when they're unrelated to the direction of the degree program you were considering. These general education requirements serve an important purpose. Let's explore why.

What is General Education?

GenEdBodyHeadshot2The general education curriculum focuses on the interdisciplinary lens, including courses in history, natural and social sciences, technology and humanities. Dr. Priscilla Hobbs, associate dean of general education and interdisciplinary studies at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), described general education as a well-rounded learning experience to help develop a well-rounded student.

Anthony Siciliano, executive director of general education at SNHU, said that general education credits make up "the largest allocation of credits" across undergraduate degree programs. "The general education curriculum is a standard, required part of every bachelor degree program in the country and is meant to foster greater accessibility, a clear and relevant academic pathway for students to attain their degree credential and to provide students with the necessary core skills in order to be successful in their lives and chosen career paths," he said.

Why General Education Courses Are Important

Reshape your outlook on learning. General education courses provide a wide breadth of learning opportunities and skills that can be applied to everyday life. Siciliano said the general education curriculum is meant to provide a foundation that promotes successful behaviors which lead to lifelong learning. "For students to be adequately prepared to do well in their chosen career, they need to have not only the rigor of an academic education but also an applied, relevant and practical curriculum that focuses on the development of these core skills," Siciliano said. Siciliano pointed to a survey of employers and current university students conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities which showed the comprehensive range of knowledge and skills learned across disciplines best prepares students for long-term career success.

Learn soft skills desired by employers. To impress employers and be able to prove yourself as a member of a team, it's important you learn interpersonal skills. These include things such as empathy, conflict resolution and being able to communicate effectively. Siciliano said the general education courses "encourage an aptitude for empathy infused with objectivity and curiosity" and "develop a strong sense of self in one's capabilities and the ability to reflect and learn from one's experiences"- skills employers seek in the people they hire.

"These soft skills, or core skills, are the knowledge, dispositions and abilities needed by students to be successful in their chosen professions and for becoming an immediate contributor to a rapidly changing global workforce," Siciliano said.

Hiring employees with these attributes is essential to keep a company running smoothly. "Numerous self-help books and professional development opportunities are designed to help employees develop their soft skills," Hobbs said. "Each day our paths cross with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and we need to be able to manage those interactions in a positive way rather than in a way that promotes conflict," Hobbs said.

GenEdBodyHeadshot1Be well-versed in a wide variety of disciplines. Introducing this broad range of perspectives creates the ability to look at problems from different angles and help present possible solutions. "We may look at an issue historically, or we may put on the hat of social scientists," Hobbs said. "Being able to see through these lenses helps us critically navigate through all the information that surrounds us at any given second. It helps us make decisions about what to filter, what we find interesting, and what we need to do about anything. Without that, the world and all the information passing through it can quickly seem overwhelming."

Siciliano said the interdisciplinary general education courses provide students with different perspectives from which to view the world, giving them the ability to tackle a variety of real-world problems. Being able to communicate effectively with different audiences, analyze information for accuracy and display literacy in digital technology can make you an impressive candidate to potential employers or improve your chances of moving up the ladder at your present job.

Use your previous work to reach your education goals. Siciliano said a general studies degree "provides greater flexibility to complete their degree according to their work, career and family life." Whether you're transferring universities or looking to earn a degree that reflects your broad range of skills, a bachelor's in general studies can prepare you for the next step in your career. The BA in General Studies program helps students who are continuing their education apply prior coursework toward a degree. "This can include placement tests, previous classes and military credit," Hobbs said. "Essentially, the general studies degree is designed to help students achieve their goal of a degree without having to start over because they transferred universities." Hobbs said most general studies students are within 15 classes of completing their degree.

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on twitter @AshDWallis.

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