How higher ed is making over general education

Institutions have been changing general education requirements to match job skill demands of employers
By: | September 24, 2019

With the job market requiring new sets of skills for college grads joining the labor force, states and higher ed institutions have been adjusting the parameters of general education. Reconfigured courses, altered degree requirements and tweaked admission standards have been part of the effort. 

Leaders at Franklin College in Indiana have revamped the institution’s curriculum to create the “Pursuit at Franklin College,” which is focused on providing an education bolstered by real-world experiences, according to The Indy Channel. Students will partake in expanded internship and immersive learning opportunities, enjoy higher exposure to technology, and receive professional development training, among other initiatives. “We think it’s just a terrific winning combination of liberal arts with relevant skills and introduction to the workforce,” Lori Schroeder, provost and dean of Franklin College, told The Indy Channel.

This semester, Harvard’s History department “rebranded” itself to attract new undergraduate students and retain others, The Crimson reports. The department has introduced introductory courses geared to appeal to freshmen, as well as added “career course clusters” designed to support students studying adjacent areas such as business, journalism and law. “What we know, and what we’re trying to make sure students understand, is that the kind of skills they gain in History—those fundamental skills of powers of communication, of really great writing and critical analysis—those are the kind of things that are going to be used in all sorts of careers,” said Director of Undergraduate Studies Lisa M. McGirr, who spearheaded the overhaul. 


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In the same vein, Harvard has also updated its general education curriculum to better prepare students for life beyond college, according to Harvard Magazine.

In Kansas, the state Board of Regents recently voted to eliminate a rule that students applying to college need to take courses in English, math and science to be considered, The Wichita Eagle reports. Class rank will also no longer be factored in, and emphasis will be shifted to grades and standardized test scores—all part of an effort to open general higher ed to all students, and deepen potential employee pools. The proposal is still being debated and will have to be approved by the state legislature before being enacted.

Ultimately, employers and accreditation agencies are both pressuring higher ed institutions to better prepare students for life after school. 


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“There’s a sense of urgency in addressing some of the skepticism about whether higher education is teaching students 21st-century skills and whether it’s headed in the right direction,” Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), recently told UB.

“What employers want is for students to be able to solve complex problems,” added José Bowen, president of Goucher College in Maryland. “They don’t want to know if you understand philosophy. They want to know if you can work with groups.”