As a current Penn State student as well as a Penn State dual-enrollment student in high school, I have noticed a growing need for a university-wide General Education Reform. Although the current system- an exploration focused curriculum- plays to the university’s desire for “well-rounded” students, it fails to prepare students for their upcoming careers. Students tend to take general education classes which fail to correlate with their desired majors, leaving very little practical application for the information in real life. At the same time, many students graduating today fail to display the technical and communication skills required by employers in the modern competitive job market. I therefore recommend that Penn State create a course curriculum with a key focus on skills-based courses and a sub-focus on exploration: a mandatory (not included in the General Education credit requirements) skills-based six-credit English 015 and CAS 100 year-long freshman experience, 15 credits of skills-based classes, and 15 credits of exploration-based classes. Overall, this system equally balances Penn State’s wishes for universally educated students while at the same time gives students the training they need for life after college.
Mandatory English and Speech Course
Over the past several decades, as technology has increased, communication skills have undergone the opposite trend. According to BBC Capital, today’s employers “are finding that their young hires are awkward in their interpersonal interactions and ill-prepared to collaborate effectively with teammates and develop relationships with clients.” This is an unfortunate statistic, for, according to another source- Forbes- “Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization” and “Ability to create and/or edit written reports” lie respectively in the fourth and ninth positions for the top ten most important skills employers look for in today’s prospective employees. According to a recent study by the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the main reasons why students go to college today is to land a job. The survey states that “The portion of incoming freshmen that cited ‘to be able to get a better job’ as a very important reason for attending college reached… 87.9 percent in 2012, an increase from 85.9 percent in 2011.” Whether a student is driven by goals of wealth or discovery, communication skills are a necessity, and the introduction of such skills to students early in their college careers is vital. To help ease the growing trend in fewer and fewer communication skills in coming generations, Penn State should include a mandatory year-long six-credit writing and speaking class within every freshman’s course schedule. The class could be broken into semesters with one semester focusing on effective speech (CAS 100) and the other focusing on effective writing (English 015) with teachers switching sections halfway through the year. To give students an early introduction to their majors and be most effective, the classes could be broken up by college. For example, the effective writing section of the class could include an introduction to technical writing within the student’s prospective major while the effective speaking section could have a focus on communication of ideas between majors. The incorporation of such a course is crucial for freshmen, for- specifically in the area of technical writing- many students cannot get into the courses critical for their entire college career until they are seniors, making the information utterly useless. Furthermore, in order to introduce students to the development of skills in today’s economy, the speaking section of the class could incorporate proper conduct for modern forms of communication such as podcasts, webinars, and even interviewing processes such as elevator pitches. Overall, the inclusion of such a course within all freshmen schedules would not only give students a brief view into their career paths, but also valuable life skills that can be applied to any situation.
Skills Importance and Implementation
Skill implementation, however, should not be limited to the teaching of effective writing and speech. Multiple other skills-related fields of study exist, and Penn State should require students to dedicate 15 credits to the integration of such. In a recent study by the International Data Corporation and commissioned by Microsoft Corporation, it was discovered that, along with communication skills, “integration and presentation skills (CIPs) are required for about 40 percent of all positions and make up 11 of the top 20 skills that are required by 39 percent of the fastest growing, highest paying positions.” The study- which selected the top 20 skills demanded for high-paying jobs between 2013 and 2020 from a list of over 11,000- determined that three of the 20 demanded skills were Microsoft Office applications. From Microsoft Word to PowerPoint, employers are looking for students who are able to show not only proficient, but even exceptional digital literacy. To give students an edge upon entering the workforce, Penn State should provide its students with a broad range of computer-based skills classes. Such classes could teach students the inner workings of broad applications such as Microsoft Publisher or Excel, or they could teach more specialized applications such as SolidWorks for engineers or even Adobe Photoshop for artists. Also listed in the top demanded skills of the survey were expertise in “Problem Solving” and “Troubleshooting.” With this in mind, skills-based courses could also teach students how to deal with common computer malfunctions and hardware repair, creating a perfectly rounded student able to adapt to any real-life situation.
Exploration Importance and Implementation
Despite the vital importance of skills within the Penn State course curriculum, however, the need for exploration still exists both to give students independence within their own curriculum as well as a broader understanding of the world. As my own English professor, Dr. Jessica O’Hara, told my English 015 class, the knowledge taught to her in one of her own general education classes made the difference between whether or not she was hired (provide quote). Overall, exploration classes allow students to develop a self-identity. As with the case of my English professor, classes taken outside of major requirements can show individuality to employers and make the employee stand out from the crowd. The remaining 15 credits of the 30 credit curriculum should, therefore, consist of exploration-based classes. This is a sufficient number of credits for students to develop a broader understanding of different cultural and societal studies without overwhelming course schedules with non-vital information to a specific major. Penn State’s own website lists its exploration goals as “[providing] a broad overview of the world in which we live,” “[increasing] understanding of the relationship between people of different cultures,” and “[widening] international perspective.” With only 15 credits of exploration classes, students could do just that without compromising the more vital studies of their career paths.
Overall, this recommendation for General Education reform at Penn State would not be difficult to integrate into the course curriculum, for it is in actuality not too far off from Penn State’s current system. According to Penn State’s University Bulletin, the first objective listed under “Components of General Education” is “Skills courses that help develop quantitative and communication skills.” It seems logical, therefore, that making skills become the main focus of Penn State’s General Education reformation would actually coincide with the university’s own definition of General Education. Furthermore, though new skills courses would have to be added to the curriculum, dropping the credit load from the current 45 credit requirement to only 30 (plus the six credits required for the mandatory English and Speech course) would actually free up space for teachers and allow them to adjust their schedules accordingly. Finally, little to no change would be required to integrate the mandatory English and Speech class, for English 015 and CAS 100 teachers would keep their current classes- with minor course changes- and then simply switch sections halfway through the school year. If Penn State is truly adamant about General Education reform, why not take the plunge one step at a time to create a period of evaluation for what works and what does not?
Opponents of the Idea
As with any recommendation, however, opposing viewpoints take shape. One argument of opponents of this plan for General Education reform is that students may already know how to use applications such as Microsoft Office, making the course redundant and even non-educational. However, though such classes may exist, the choice of which classes to take is ultimately up to the student. Students who do not feel comfortable in their abilities with more basic applications can choose the areas in which they need help while students who feel confident with their knowledge can move onto more major-based software. The program would be based on the students’ own abilities, thus allowing each individual to judge for him or herself which classes would provide the most benefit. Another argument against the incorporation of skills-based courses is that with the fast-paced growth of technology, the skills students learn one year may be obsolete by the time they graduate. However, if done properly, skills-based courses would not only teach students how to use current technology, but also how to adapt to that of the future. Though the abilities learned in one class may be geared towards a particular program or application, the skills remain universally applicable. By putting an emphasis on problem solving within technological media, Penn State could train students how to use the tools of the future today. One final argument made by opponents is that a theme-based approach to General Education reform would provide a better avenue for students. However, with 15 credits of free exploration classes, students can decide for themselves a general “theme” for their classes without being hindered by an obligation to take classes that fulfill those under a specific label.
As a whole, the benefits of a reformation of the Penn State General Education system outweigh the costs. By creating a mandatory English and Speech class for freshmen, students can receive early exposure to and the ability to master the skills they will need throughout their careers. 15 credits of mandatory skills-based classes would give students an edge on the latest software trends while teaching them skills which can be applied to the future. Furthermore, by limiting exploration credits to only 15, Penn State could give students a sufficient understanding of world cultures and societal views without taking away from major course studies. With so many benefits to Penn State students as well as a fairly easy form of integration into the course curriculum, there is no doubt that this plan for General Education reform is the best course of action for providing the university’s greatest education thus far.