Tuesday, February 06, 2018

“Why Do I Have to Take This Class?”

On Monday I had the opportunity to talk to a graduate class about the realities of community college administration, along with Tom Bailey from the CCRC.  The students were terrific; many of them were community college graduates themselves, looking to return.  I was struck by one line of questioning, though, so I’m hoping my wise and worldly readers can help me sort it out.

The question was around integrating general education into vocational programs.  

One student suggested integrating gen ed skills into the technical courses themselves, until another student pointed out -- correctly -- that if it doesn’t show on the transcript, it won’t get credit upon transfer.  (Some states, including NJ, also mandate certain numbers of gen ed credits for each degree type.  That only works if gen ed credits are distinct.)  “Infusion” models also tend to dissipate over time, as disciplinary centers of gravity assert themselves.  

That led to a discussion of ways to convince skeptical students in vocational programs that the gen ed classes are worth taking seriously.  

I mentioned the line I used to use at DeVry, when I taught poli sci to CIS majors.  I mentioned that their technical skills would get them their first job, but their communication skills and gen ed skills would get them promoted.  That worked for some, but the skepticism ran deep, and my explanation was a bit more instrumentalist than I would have preferred.  One of the grad students asked if DeVry kept statistics on the correlation between wages ten years after graduation, and GPA in gen ed courses.  It didn’t when I was there, but that was a while ago.  I’ve never seen that particular stat for any school, though it might be worth seeing.

Still, even teaching at places without such a distinctly vocational mission, I’d still hear variations on “why do I have to take this class?”  From an institutional perspective, the question could be phrased as “why should we require this class?”  

Many years ago, I interviewed for a deanship at a college that was known for its dance program.  In one of the group interviews, a professor asked me which math classes I thought a dance major should be required to take.  I fumbled through some discussion of quantitative reasoning as a way of looking at the world, but the question stuck with me.  Admittedly, dance isn’t usually thought of as a vocational program, but the general point stands.  

So I’ll pose the question to my wise and worldly readers.  Assume that you’re teaching in (or constructing) a vocational program, but you’re teaching one of the gen ed classes in the program.  How do you answer “why do I have to take this class?”