This past year’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience (CUE) report had multiple recommendations for supportive change, specifically in Case Western Reserve University’s academic system. Most notably, the report suggested adopting a “university-wide general education requirement” that entails a 120 required credit-hour cap for all undergraduates.
Given the large difference in credit-hour requirements across all disciplines, this recommendation has been the source of debate for quite some time. All Case School of Engineering majors have a minimum requirement of 128-133 credit hours and all College of Arts and Sciences majors have between 120-133.
Because the number of credit hours required within each college varies so much, getting every degree down to 120 credit hours will be difficult. I understand the need for reducing course load, but if a reduction in stress caused by course overload is what the university is aiming for, the number of credit hours required is not the only thing we should be looking at.
In addition to credit hours, the required classes themselves should be a point of focus. Grouping majors into too broad of a category leads to required classes that are more beneficial to some majors over others. Smaller groupings and more specific requirements would have a better effect on the student’s individual course of study.
The university should require less general education courses and more major-specific courses. This does not mean necessarily decreasing the cap on credit hours but instead prioritizing the importance of classes with respect to more closely-related majors.
A general education requirement credit hour cap will lead us in this direction, but without taking a look at the classes themselves, we’re simply taking away opportunities for each student’s individual academic track.
With the needs for specific degrees constantly changing in a technologically evolving world, the classes and requirements of these degrees need to be reviewed frequently for practicality. Curriculum should keep up with the changing wants from employers and research opportunities. The world is changing—and as a university, we should be too.
This is obviously the perspective of a computer science major. I’m on track to be a computer scientist and I had to—by requirement—take a class not specific to my major. Similarly, candidates for civil engineering are required to take a class on circuits, but computer scientists are not. I’m under the same category as a mechanical or materials engineer for the general education requirement. I understand the need for a well-rounded education but why not round it off with relevant subjects?
Supplementary classes should give us as students what we need to put us ahead of other candidates for jobs. Every computer scientist is going to have experience in an algorithms or data structures class but not all of them will have strong communication or collaboration skills that come with a class that brings them to the table.
Looking at a job description, you’ll usually see two categories: requirements and “pluses,” or additional skills that make you more attractive to the employer. Major-specific classes should allow a student to meet the requirement side of things, while general education classes should make those extra skills more attainable.
A 120 credit hour cap on the general education requirement will bring a lower course load for that flexibility in each student’s studies, but the prioritization of the courses that make up those 120 credit hours should be equally—if not more—important.
Jason Richards is a second-year computer science major.