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UMaine faculty holds forum to discuss general education requirement changes

On Thursday, Nov. 21, the University of Maine faculty held the “General Education: The Road Ahead,” forum to discuss an upcoming re-evaluation of the current general education course requirements and structure. The forum consisted of a powerpoint presentation followed by a discussion session with members of the UMaine community and faculty to talk about the current general education structure, as well as to troubleshoot issues within the existing structure.

General education requirements, commonly called “gen-eds,” are courses that are required for undergraduate students that supplement undergraduate degree paths. They are designed to give students interdisciplinary experience and encourage students to think in ways that enforce the UMaine values of community, change, commitment, collaboration, integrity and diversity. Currently, UMaine, Orono offers over 900 courses that fulfill gen-ed requirements. Courses that fulfill gen-ed requirements range from critical-thinking math to humanities courses. 

However, after discussions over the summer with peers from outside institutions, UMaine faculty has recognized that the current gen-ed system is not the easiest to navigate and often leaves students feeling confused and frustrated. The faculty hopes to restructure the gen-ed system in a way that promotes a more comprehensive understanding of the values that the courses are meant to teach. 

“The impetus for [the restructuring] was attending the New England Committee for Higher Education institute this past summer. What we saw at the institute is that there is a trend going on, all across the country, where universities are trying to make their general education systems more coherent and meaningful to students,” Samuel Hanes, professor of anthropology and chair of the faculty senate General Education Committee, said. “The goal is to make them seem like less of a collection of classes across different disciplines and more something that coheres and integrates into their education well.” 

Implementing changes that will allow for a clearer understanding of general education requirements will allow the student community to gain more from their time at UMaine. While all students that graduate with a degree have fulfilled their general education requirements, many feel as though they did not gain much educational benefit from the courses.

“I have taken a handful of gen-eds, and I think they’re alright. They allow me to pursue some of my interests [outside of my degree path] but, overall, I’m trying to figure out what to do with them,” Drew Thibodeau, a third-year finance and financial economics student noted. “I haven’t really been guided on what to use them for, it’s really up to me. I wish there was a little more support [in understanding] what to do with them, especially for students who may not have a huge interest outside of their field of study.”

The faculty and administration hope to change this mindset by being clearer about the importance of general education classes. Currently, there is a plan to implement research and gather feedback from UMaine undergraduate and graduate students, as well as alumni, faculty and parents of enrolled students in the spring of 2020. This research will give the UMaine faculty a better idea of what issues should be addressed, as well as how to address these issues. 

“I would say that I would like to see the system more efficient and effective,” Michael Fagan, a fifth-year business and psychology student said. “It’s something that should be thought about in a cooperative way.” 

In the fall of 2020, the UMaine faculty plans to draft a plan of action and garner feedback from the community on this plan in the hopes that they will be able to make and implement their decisions on these changes during the spring of 2021, allowing the changes to be in place for the fall of 2021.


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