The Importance Of Penn State’s Gen Ed Requirements

As graduation quickly approaches and I (along with many others) prepare to start work, grad school, or whatever else may be on the horizon, I’m left thinking about what I actually learned after four years in Happy Valley.

I do like to think I’ve picked up a lot between my economics classes and my history courses, but I’m increasingly convinced that my general education credits have been the most important in terms of developing real skills.

Gen ed requirements at Penn State are, in many ways, a hassle. To a degree, these requirements force students to pay for classes they have no interest in and often don’t relate to their respective majors.

But general education requirements help separate Penn State students from the rest.

Take the dreaded CAS 100 requirement, for example. As a mentor in the Speaking Center, I hear students complain about this class on a regular basis. I get it — it’s not the easiest class, and putting together speech after speech can be tiring work.

Or maybe English 15 is the class you really hate right now. I’m sure tutors in the Writing Center on campus hear a lot about how (insert negative adjective here) the class is.

Anyone with any work experience can probably guess where my argument is going, though. LinkedIn recently released a report in which the company found that the second most-demanded soft skill among companies is communication. Only leadership topped communication, according to LinkedIn, but it’s hard to teach leadership in a classroom.

I’ll never forget during my summer internship when a manager in my department told me all of the Penn State graduates he’s met have been personable and impressive communicators. The MIT grads are brilliant and incredibly talented, but, he would argue, perhaps lack the same ability to communicate clearly or persuade others. He told me a speechwriting class he took was the most important in his entire career — a career in technology and banking.

Even Dr. Jadrian Wooten, who’s an expert in labor economics, believes taking a business writing course (or an additional one if you’ve taken one already) is among the most helpful things a student here can do.

General education is about more than just preparing students for a job market, though. Public institutions have an implied mandate to improve the well-being of society at large by molding productive, informed individuals with broad perspectives. Even with all of Penn State’s emphasis on engineering, hard sciences, and business, it should still strive to create well-rounded members of society who can contribute to the pursuit of some public good.

What do gen eds have to do with the public good? Well, maybe taking that EGEE 101 class allowed you to think critically about the steps necessary to protect the earth for generations to come and support policies to accomplish exactly that.

Or, perhaps, taking Math 34 — the math of money — has given you the background to navigate the numerous financial decisions you’ll be faced with throughout your life. Your family will thank you.

The gen ed system isn’t perfect. Some classes are difficult to justify taking depending on your major, and all of these classes cost money, after all. Maybe paring down the required credits isn’t the worst idea, especially given the ever-increasing costs associated with college.

Without these requirements, though, Penn State students would happily avoid taking classes that either expose their weaknesses or simply don’t pique their most basic interests. Gen eds are about developing a range of skills and making meaningful connections between your class material and the world at large.

Simply put, these annoying requirements help ensure that, when you grab your diploma, you’re prepared to make an impact.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected].

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