Monday, September 16, 2013
Should Gen Eds be Free?
Dorn’s proposal is well-intended, and I can see the appeal. But it’s full of perverse incentives for both states and colleges, and I just don’t have enough faith in civic virtue to assume that everyone will look past their own incentives. “Free” is a magic word, and I’m a supporter of it in certain contexts (like OER and mini-prep classes). But getting that granular at the level of operating funding, and trusting in the farsighted wisdom of state legislatures during recessions, just seems like an accident waiting to happen.
Something similar applies to other fields that also have sophomore level gen ed classes targeted at their majors. For example, we have a literature course suitable for an introduction to the major in addition to the if-it-is-Tuesday-it-must-be-the-renaissance hums-for-all class.
Finally, if that plan is so good, why does he exclude research universities? It doesn't cost them any more than it does us to teach a composition class, modulo a few hundred dollars more that they pay their adjuncts, but they get a lot more from the state per student than we do. I'd guess that every tuition dollar for gen ed is profit at some universities.
I don't know our budget numbers. I can report that departments with many gen ed courses seem to receive much more financial support (new faculty, teaching assistants, ...) compared to departments without gen eds. I suppose that supports the profit argument. (If it brings in extra money, do more of it...)
CCPhysicist, the reason why I focused on community colleges is threefold:
1) My intended mechanism is the legislature paying the tuition/fees directly, and doing so would be much cheaper to do (and thus more politically feasible) for community colleges.
2) The population that most needs the help are in community colleges.
3) This is in part a way to push a mechanism for the balance-wheel dynamics of state higher ed budgets to benefit general instruction, not pet projects.
I probably interpreted "many of them don't require specialized labs" as if it read "all". I do know that our CC versions of those majors classes are more expensive than the university ones because we use full professors in thirtyish student classrooms to teach calculus and all other math classes while universities pack them into large lectures.
My intended mechanism is to get the State (or its taxpayers) to realize that research universities are already getting more than enough from the State to teach its gen eds for free with a mostly adjunct faculty. Equal funding for freshman students across the CC and Uni classes they take might allow us to teach gen eds for no or little tuition.
specialized labs, or clinical sites, or expensive technology
But shouldn't they? I mean science does fall within the GE spectrum doesn't it?
One of my problems with GE courses is how watered down they are, how they are taught by faculty who receive the worst treatment and least investment and how much they interfere with major's courses (at my institution - where about 51 semester units in a 120 unit major are GE - that's for a BS - it's more GE outside the major for a BA.) They are a time suck and a way to make money by employing slave labor - nothing more. They trick unsuspecting students into thinking they've taken "college level" whatever when in fact at least in the sciences they are just repeating what people should have learned in high school. If they were really teaching science, they would have labs and real faculty and all the expense that comes with a major's course. Instead, we fool ourselves into thinking that by exposing students to different disciplines they will catch them like infectious diseases and somehow get them integrated into their intellectual DNA.
In a perfect world, I think we should divide all disciplines into three domains – Science, Art, Humanities. I think GE should be limited to 4 lower division classes and 2 upper division ones, taken outside of the domain of your major. If a student graduates from a major not knowing how to write or speak, oh well. It was their choice to avoid learning those things. If departments want their majors to be able to write, they should incorporate writing into their major’s courses (teaching a bio major how to analyze a poem and write about it accomplishing little. Teaching them to write a lab report accomplishes a lot.) I know that sounds harsh but we are talking about 18 year olds and I don’t see the point of forcing them to take a lot of classes they don’t want to take in order to make them learn things they don’t want to know in order to save them from themselves.
However, why did you left out math? Even there the main idea applies: many would benefit from a personal financial management course about mortgages, investment, and tax returns rather than the "college algebra" that we require now.
On the other hand, I can't see a humanities major taking an upper division or lower division "real" science class. Isn't there still a real need for a pair of classes like Physics for Future Presidents and Molecular Biology for Future Presidents that covers what should have been learned in HS but wasn't?