GENERAL STUDIES: MYTHS AND TRUTHS
There are several myths about a General Studies degree. One is that switching to a General Studies curriculum from another major will somehow allow a student to graduate earlier. This is not necessarily true. As with any other curriculum switch, a student may lose or gain hours with each change. The outcome of a switch depends on several factors such as the time in a student’s career when the switch is made.
What all of this is saying is that a B.G.S. is a degree all to its own, with certain strengths and weaknesses just like other degrees. For many students, understanding a degree’s strength is as simple as understanding a chosen field. You know that after you graduate in accounting, accounting is your chosen field. You leave college assuming that the world of work and the professions will assume that your training is in accounting. Thus, there is a strength — a presumption that you are an “accounting person.” But there is also a weakness — the presumption that all you know is accounting.
So it is with General Studies. There are weaknesses with the degree and strengths, especially when others are interpreting what you supposedly know.
However, it is true that General Studies students, as a rule, are at a bit of a disadvantage from the start because they have no obvious major field of study, no “major name.” A General Studies student must be ready for the question, “Just what is your degree in, anyway?”
How is a General Studies student to answer this question?
More than any other student, a General Studies student must give consideration to the degree itself, must be ready to explain the strengths and the concentration of knowledge to the outside world. This preparation is best done with a thorough understanding of what you’ve studied for four or five years. While the General Studies “capstone” courses IDST 405 or 410 is designed to help you understand your degree and to prepare for the world that awaits you after college, there are a few things you should think about before taking that course.
First, let’s look at what you’ve been studying in order to see where your strengths lie.
Knowledge You Have as B.G.S. Graduates:
- General Education University requirements
- Fine Arts (3 hours)
- English (12 hours) writing, research, upper-level writing, literature
- History (3 hours)
- Math (6 hours)
- Natural Sciences (9 hours) physical and biological
- Social Sciences (6 hours) sociology, psychology, government, geography, economics
- Freshman Studies (1 hour)
- Computer Literacy 2 hours)
- Oral Communication (3 hours)
- General Studies requirements
- Intercultural studies humanities elective (3 hours)
- Humanities (9 hours) humanities, philosophy, speech above 101, history, literature, fine arts, foreign language
- DIST 405 or 410 Senior Capstone (3 hours)
- Demonstration of educational depth in an area with at least an overall C average. This depth is most easily demonstrated by way of an academic minor of at least 18 hours, 9 hours of which are at the 300-level or above. For graduation purposes, this academic depth must be approved by the Interdisciplinary Studies department head.
After taking a close look at your studies, you can see that you have “majored” in a general university education. You have also chosen to concentrate in a certain field to the extent that you have a minor or have demonstrated educational depth in that field. What you may not realize is that your “general university major” has another name at other schools. At many universities, students can major in an area called “Liberal Arts.” A Liberal Arts major is someone who can be presumed to have liberal arts as a field of study.
After leaving a university, liberal arts majors are ready to find jobs where communication and problem-solving skills are needed. They are ready to find jobs where employers are looking for all-around “university thinkers.”
Let’s take a closer look at what a Liberal Arts major is.
Definition of Liberal Arts
Liberal Arts: studies in the humanities, mathematics, and the social and natural sciences as distinct from professional or technical subjects.
Not only is there a dictionary definition of liberal arts, there is also a website designed by people who think that a strong liberal arts degree is the very essence of a valuable college education. The influence of this kind of thinking is found at most universities because all students are required to take “core courses” in liberal arts in order to graduate. All students at Nicholls do just that. All students are required to take “General Education” courses. These courses are based in the liberal arts.
It might be said that a General Studies graduate has majored in an overall university education based on the liberal arts curriculum.
Those of you who are interested should click on the website below and visit the national liberal arts site for the organization known as The American Association for Liberal Education. The words found there will help General Studies students explain the strengths of their degree.
The pages that follow are taken from this website. Take a look at what is being said. Your liberal arts degree comes with skills that many employers are looking for.
From “What Good is a Liberal Education? The AALE’s (The American Association for Liberal Education) New Assessment Model”
The Academy’s Mission, General Education and Curriculum, and Teaching and Educational Resources standards seek to ensure that accredited institutions provide their students with the educational means and opportunities essential for developing the characteristics of a liberally educated person. The Academy’s unique Liberal Learning Assessment standards invite institutions to reflect and report on the ways their educational programs actually foster the growth and flourishing of such characteristics in their students. Chief among these characteristics are the ability to reason and communicate effectively, possession of a certain breadth and depth of knowledge, and a love of learning.
The Academy’s Liberal Learning Assessment standards do not prescribe specific methods or instruments for assessing student learning. They seek, instead, to identify certain key characteristics of intellectual and personal achievement in liberal learning – Effective Reasoning, Broad and Deep Learning, and the Inclination to Inquire – and then to suggest some clear indicators or criteria of achievement. These characteristics, along with their associated indicators and criteria, should be recognizable across a broad spectrum of liberal education models.
Standard One – Effective Reasoning
An education in the liberal arts always seeks to develop students’ abilities to recognize and to think clearly about important issues and questions. The ability to reason effectively includes certain foundational skills or abilities (e.g., fluency in reading, writing, and oral communication, mastery of the basic principles of logical, mathematical, and scientific reasoning), as well as higher-order capacities for formulating, analyzing, integrating, and applying arguments and information.
Standard Two – Broad and Deep Learning
A liberally educated person should possess a rich fund of meaningful knowledge, as well as the ability to compare and integrate new or different areas of knowledge in fruitful ways. An institution’s general education curriculum should impart a broad foundational knowledge of the various liberal arts and sciences. Students should also experience the depth of learning that comes from a sustained, progressive exploration of the distinct modes of inquiry belonging to one or more of the major disciplines. Through such studies or their equivalents, students acquire the ability to relate disparate parts of the curriculum to one another, as well as to integrate knowledge gained across different fields of study.
Standard Three – The Inclination to Inquire
An education in the liberal arts and sciences is more than the mere accumulation of knowledge and skills. It fosters and encourages the student’s desire for seeking out and acquiring important knowledge and skills, both for their own sake and for the good they contribute to our common and individual lives. For this reason, a disposition for asking incisive and insightful questions and for pursuing enriching and useful skills is perhaps the surest sign of a liberally educated mind.
The student should demonstrate:
- the foundational abilities of effective reasoning; fluency in reading, writing, and oral communication; basic principles of logical, mathematical and scientific reasoning
- the ability to frame reasonable arguments, support them with relevant evidence, analyze arguments rationally and anticipate likely counter-arguments
- the ability to recognize, evaluate, and integrate new information into existing frameworks of knowledge; and adapt those frameworks as necessary
- the ability to engage in reasoned and sustained discussions of important issues or questions; and to elucidate orally and in writing different or opposing perspectives
Broad and Deep Learning:
The student should show:
- a rich fund of meaningful knowledge
- a familiarity with essential knowledge; principles and methods of various disciplines
- a thorough grasp of basic knowledge, principles, and methods of one of the major disciplines
- the ability to relate disparate areas or disciplines of the arts and sciences to one another
- a general grasp of the principles, history, and workings of liberal and democratic institutions; proven ability to take up responsibilities and privileges of liberal and democratic citizenship
- an ability to discuss salient issues of Western history, and a habit of bringing relevant knowledge of past thought and events to bear on contemporary questions
- an appreciation for the political and cultural; history of at least one non-Western culture
- the ability to communicate effectively in a foreign language
- an acquaintance with scientific and technological knowledge and development, and a basic understanding of their ethical/philosophical implications.
The Inclination to Inquire
The student should demonstrate:
- a disposition to ask incisive and insightful questions and for pursuing enriching and useful knowledge and skills
- the development of a reflective and inquisitive turn of mind, one that actively weighs the judgments put to it; the ability to bring to bear the knowledge and skills acquired in academic pursuits to important issues; development of a personally significant and continually examined perspective on answers to the questions, “What is the good life?” “What is the common good?” and “What is the best social order?”
Resumes generally stress a person’s education in light of specific skills and areas of intense study. The skills for General Studies students are those skills listed by the The American Association for Liberal Education. Students who stress these skills on their resumes will find that employers are always looking for “liberal arts people.” Sometimes, students might have to show employers the proper way to interpret a liberal- arts-based resume. But that’s the purpose of all resumes: It’s the student’s responsibility to show that they have what employers and companies are looking for.
A General Studies student is ready to put communication and problem-solving skills to work. Show them what you have. Be proud of what you have.