Change is inevitable. Right?
On Wednesday, David Fleming, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, spoke in McClung Tower and explored the evolution of the bachelor's degree in America.
"I think the bachelor's degree in this country has been unique in its inclusion of a liberal project ... this ancient sense of trying to broaden people's minds," Fleming said.
Elsewhere, in Europe and beyond, the bachelor's degree has come to emphasize specificity, meant to prepare a student for a specific career.
In stark contrast, the majority of bachelor's degrees in the U.S. are devised to support a "rounded" education. Students study a specific major, but roughly two-thirds of their course load is not directly related to that major. With this flexibility, colleges have the ability to expand or contract programs as necessary, adjusting to trends in society and business.
Even so, the courses available within a major somewhat limit the scope of higher learning. In Fleming's experience, most business leaders want future employees to have a broader education, allowing them to grow with societal and technological advancements.
Jacob Sharbel, a UT graduate student in rhetoric, writing and linguistics, understands both sides of this argument.
"I know people who want to be doctors who just want to be doctors," Sharbel said. "Why do they need to take sociology? I would argue that they do, but they make convincing arguments that they don't."
Most universities in America offering bachelor's degrees require 120 course credits to graduate. These credits are divided among general education, major and elective courses. Fleming traces this format, called the "concentration distribution system," back to Harvard in the early 1900s.
Fleming's research shows that in 1945, general education courses accounted for an average of 37.5 percent of the credits needed to graduate at U.S. universities. As of 2009, that percentage was the same, never shifting above 43 percent or below 34 percent in that span of time.
While problems of access, financial aid and student loans have been addressed, Fleming believes the four-year, 120-credit system format lacks much-needed attention. With the success of global higher education practices producing impressive results, Fleming questions the current U.S. degree system. Cost, too, has become an issue, with suggestions of shortening the bachelor's degree to a three-year plan, trimming courses to make education more affordable.
"I think we need to be ready to either defend it and to keep working, making it better," Fleming said. "Or should we start to ask students to have two majors, each of them smaller than the current major?"