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The Value of a Liberal Education

The Stanford Daily Editorial Board, October 31, 2011

Some students at Stanford University have expressed dismay over the university’s rigorous general education (GE) requirements, which include two “education for citizenship” courses; three humanities classes; and five disciplinary breadth courses drawn from the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, and applied sciences and engineering—a total of eight to ten courses, in addition to a foreign language requirement that may necessitate up to three more courses. Students in unit-intensive majors may find they have no room for any electives in their schedules, according to a statement from the editorial board of the Stanford Daily, the university’s student newspaper.

But there are good reasons for such rigorous GE requirements, the editorial board says. In addition to providing exposure to a range of subjects for students undecided on their majors, GE courses give essential breadth to every student’s education. The board cites the National Academy of Engineering’s “Engineer of 2020” report, which states that “learning disciplinary technical subjects to the exclusion of a selection of humanities, economics, political science, language and/or interdisciplinary technical subjects is not in the best interest of producing engineers able to communicate with the public, able to engage in a global engineering marketplace, or trained to be lifelong learners.” Conversely, the increased use of technology in all fields means every college graduate should have some familiarity with computer science, mathematics, and engineering, the board notes.

“It is easy to complain about [GE requirements] given high workloads,” the board says, “but that should not prevent us from embracing the notion of a liberal education.” Still, faculty and administrators must play their parts in convincing students of the value in this education. It is the university’s responsibility to design a proper, practical course sequence, the board says, and it is up to professors to explain to their students why their subjects matter, especially to nonmajors.

Read the full op-ed online.


The articles featured in AAC&U News Perspectives do not necessarily represent the views of AAC&U staff, its board of directors, or its membership.