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College reform

Mark Easley | Thursday, April 7, 2011

Having gone through the bread and butter years of college, I now understand that not all we learn here is adequately preparing us for the future. As I enter the last two semesters of my college career, there are many classes within my major that I won’t have the opportunity to take — classes that could be very useful in finding my career path. I came to college specifically to prepare myself for my future career in private industry. But, regardless of our ambitions, what we all get is a smorgasbord of liberal arts education enforced through a core curriculum. Yes, there is something more to college education than just what you learn in your major, but in this day and age, where children across the world are gunning to beat us in business and innovation, can we really afford to take the extra time?

Preface: I am a computer science major and a Chinese minor. I chose these because they offer a clear path to employment and allow me to learn skills that are in demand, a main motivator to pursue a college degree.

Looking back, freshman year essentially was a waste. I learned things, maybe not as much in the chemistry department, but these things were not very relevant to my future work. For many of us there is a lot of garbage we have to wade through before we can get to the meat and potatoes of our degrees. In our younger years, we push through the less than desirable general requirements so that we can see how great our major classes really are. We’ve lived through science, math, history, literature, theology, and philosophy. I know Notre Dame is exposing us to a holistic education, but I think there is a point when we are jumping through too many hoops to get to where we want to be.

All these required classes can be defended. It is important for a college-educated adult to know some basic scientific theory as well as have a decent competency in mathematics. Literature is not only something we use on regular basis, but can be quite rewarding on a personal level. A grounding in history is useful for informed intellectual discussion. Theology is totally understandable as we go to a Catholic school and probably don’t mind getting exposed to a little religion while we’re here; otherwise, we would have matriculated to one of the many secular options available in higher education. And philosophy opens the mind and engages you to think at a higher level. However, the time between the first required class and the second required class is where exposure can actually lead to torture. Granted, depending on your major you can still have an overexposure to any one of these core disciplines. However, eliminating a required second theology and philosophy frees up two classes that you can choose to pursue something relevant or explorative. Eliminating excessive science and math courses would give people the choice to continue those studies or pursue other interests.

If we want to more effectively compete with the world, we need to stop weighing down college students, who only can afford to pay for four years of education at a private university at best, with less personally important subject material. Every subject has merit at some level, but only a select few are imposed on every student. The fewer courses that are impressed upon students, the better college scholars will respond. I am not advocating lessening the amount of knowledge gained by a four year undergraduate, but giving them the freedom to shift the focus in a direction they want to pursue. A college should provide guidelines on what to study, not dictate what to study. This problem is not just specific to Notre Dame, but American higher education at large, and change must take place at many institutions. It is a minor gripe in terms of the big picture, but a small fix here and a small change there can make a big difference to a generation.

Mark Easley is a junior majoring in computer science. He can be reached at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.