UC Davis got a rude awakening this summer when The American Council of Trustees and Alumni bestowed an “F” ranking on the campus’ undergraduate general education program.
The council based its ranking on the fact that it is possible to get a UC Davis diploma without ever taking a course in composition, math, literature survey, science, economics, U.S. government or history. The foreign language requirement was the only one of seven GE requirements that met the council’s standards.
UC Davis was not alone in its poor rating. UC campuses at Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Irvine and Berkeley each received “F” ratings, while UCLA, Merced, Riverside and San Diego each received a “C.” Other highly regarded colleges received “F” ratings, including Yale, Cornell and Johns Hopkins, while Harvard received a “D” and Princeton received a “C.” Only one California college, Thomas Aquinas College, received an “A.”
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the body that provides accreditation for all institutions of higher education, has also expressed concern over how few units students can take to fulfill the GE requirements.
Coincidentally, UC Davis is now in the process of scrapping its current general education program and starting over with something completely different.
Beginning with next fall’s incoming classes, undergrads will now have to take 12 to 20 units in each of three topical breadth areas: arts and humanities, science and engineering, and social sciences, regardless of their major. They will also have to complete 35 units within four core literacies: literacy with words and images, civic and cultural literacy, quantitative literacy and scientific literacy. Whereas “double-” or “triple-dipping” is allowed under the current system, it will not be allowed under the new requirements.
It is encouraging to see UC Davis taking stock of its goals for student education and revamping a flawed general education framework. The campus will have to do a lot of work to help new students understand the new requirements, as they constitute a far more complex framework than the current standards.
More importantly, however, it is crucial that faculty consider the burden this new system places on students. While some students may not see much of a difference in terms of how many classes they need to take to graduate, the requirements could delay graduation for students majoring in departments that require a large number of units within the major. At a time when the cost of taking classes at UC is rising rapidly, asking students to take more classes may have a real negative financial impact, possibly even causing some students to drop out of school or take classes at a community college.
Perhaps this can be addressed by allowing some double-dipping or by reducing the number of units needed to fulfill the requirements under the new system. Whatever the solution is, faculty members must consider all the potential consequences of this new system before formally implementing it next fall.