The Enduring Myths of the Six-College System—General Education is a Fraud

This week, freshmen will encounter their first midterms in their often rightly-bemoaned college writing programs. For some, this is only the fourth of 50 brutally-paced weeks that will delay them from engaging in coursework for their majors. Others have only 16 weeks to go.

A foundational myth of the six-college system is that such general education (GE) structures, wildly differing in size, are necessary for students to be properly shaped by their college’s respective philosophy. The first failure of this myth is that no college effectively achieves its stated goal. For example, Revelle College seeks to be a place “where sciences, arts, and humanities join to inspire and educate Renaissance men and women,” and—one would assume—non-binary and genderqueer students. A scholar truly molded into a Renaissance person would surely seek a greater balance in disciplines than five classes of natural science and one lonesome class in a field as diverse as fine arts, which encompasses music, theater, dance, and visual arts.

This example of a college’s practical distance from its own theoretical philosophy is not the only obstacle to effectively instilling its values in its students. Some colleges lack a full commitment to their goals, like Warren College. Warren College is a rather peculiar case in that non-engineering majors have 60 units of GE requirements, while engineering majors only have 48. This blatantly undermines two arguments in favor of the college system. First, if Warren College does not commit to shaping its students to the same degree regardless of major, it is failing to direct its students “toward a life in balance.” Conversely, if the college believes that 48 units is enough to effectively shape engineers, then why do other majors require more units?

Second, it suggests that not any major belongs in any college. If engineering students cannot complete 60 units because of the imposing size of their major coursework, then will engineers suffer from the 88 units of GEs in Revelle College? What are they to do with the 80 units of GEs in Eleanor Roosevelt College (ERC), which have significantly less potential overlap with major coursework? You might try to avoid a college with a mountain of GEs (i.e., Revelle College and ERC) in the application process. You might be repulsed by the infamy of Making of the Modern World (MMW), and be drawn to Muir College’s writing sequence instead.  But your stated preference of college on the UC application is not guaranteed, and you are ultimately assigned to a college. Your experience at UC San Diego is entirely up to chance.

One way to navigate around a seemingly insurmountable GE structure is to use credits from Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. The rate at which students complete their GEs depends on prior educational opportunities. Imagine two freshmen in ERC. If the first student had access to 12 AP classes and took advantage of AP Computer Science, Biology, French, Art Studio, and European History, they would only have to take two classes for their regional specialization and the MMW series. If a student with access to two AP classes could only take advantage of AP English Literature and AP US History, they would only get elective credit and would still have to complete 80 units of GEs.

Even then, access to the class does not mean that a student has access to affordable exams or test preparation materials such as review guides or tutoring. Students may find the length of their education extended and debt deepened because of their lack of educational opportunities prior to college. The use of AP and IB credit to fulfill GE requirements is not only erratic, but classist and discriminatory. It makes one wonder whether UCSD is deserving of the title of the Best Public University for Social Mobility awarded to it by Washington Monthly.

Another way around GEs at UCSD is to go to community college and complete certification for Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) to fulfill all lower-division requirements for the college. An IGETC-certified student transferring into ERC would only have to take MMW 121 and MMW 122 to complete their general education. Similar numbers of classes hold true for every other college except for Revelle College. An IGETC-certified student in Revelle College would still have to complete three courses of math and five courses in the natural sciences.  This design serves neither the worldview each college seeks to impose on its students nor the students themselves, especially transfers and those with limited educational opportunities before coming to UCSD.

The inflexible and erratically structured system of general education at UCSD must come to an end. Every college should have to build their general education structure within universal campus constraints. No writing sequence should extend beyond three classes. All general education should amount to no more than 68 units, about 75 percent of junior class standing.

In our current system, student identity on campus is not determined by the content of a student’s general education, but by how many weeks are left until they finish MMW, Humanities, or whatever Muir College’s writing sequence is called. The arbitrary assignment of a general education sequence should not prevent students from having an equitable, accessible, and unifying college experience.

Patrick Grieve is a Staff Writer for The Triton.

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