By JAMES FAULCONER
Several months ago a student called me wondering why he had to take general education courses. He wanted to be an engineer. Why did he need to take a humanities course or a history course? He just wanted to take his physics, math, and engineering courses, graduate, and get a job.
This young man had misunderstood the difference between university and vocational education. By electing to come to a four-year institution, you have chosen to be part of a long tradition in education, one in which the liberal arts are a significant component of undergraduate education.
At BYU we expand this notion of liberal (literally “freeing”) education, adding religion requirements to the major and general education (GE) requirements. Together, these three constitute the structure of your bachelor’s degree, a three-legged tripod that provides spiritual, cultural and vocational training.
The GE program is designed to comply with the mission of BYU and the principles of the recent document, “The Aims of a BYU Education,” which states:
“Because the gospel encourages the pursuit of all truth, students at BYU should receive a broad university education. The arts, letters, and sciences provide the core of such an education, which will help students think clearly, communicate effectively, understand important ideas in their own cultural tradition, as well as that of others, and establish clear standards of intellectual integrity. ”
Besides providing a broad educational experience, GE courses can help those still unsure of what to choose for a major. Scott entered BYU as an open major. As he took GE courses, he discovered that he enjoyed working with computers and changed his major to computer science. Sometimes GE courses open doors of new interest, introducing you to a major you had never considered before.
Once you have completed a GE requirement, you will not have to fulfill that requirement again should you change your major. Of course, your new major may require you to take a specific course for major requirements, but you will not have to repeat any courses for GE credit.
As you come to BYU this fall, I hope that you will see General Education courses as not just requirements but as opportunities to expand your mind and to explore the unfamiliar.