An argument for closing the General College

Karl Noyes

With proposed budget cuts in the millions and more severe cuts expected soon, the University finds itself in a financial trap. Desperate deeds are pending and the University will have to consider gnawing off a leg or two. One such leg, the General College, has survived attempted elimination previously, but only an establishment of priorities will prevent its elimination this go-around.

Because of a combination of factors, many General College students fail to complete their educations. Only approximately 30 percent of General College students eventually earn degrees from the University. In the past decade, the General College has seen drop-out rates as high as 70 percent and five-year graduation rates as low as 11 percent, though steady improvement has occurred over the past years.

With a focus on admitting low-income, first-generation, and nonwhite students, the main educational purpose of the General College is preparatory. Founded in the 1930s, the original intention of the General College was to provide higher education for less fortunate Minnesotans at a time when few secondary institutions existed. Approximately 80 percent of students admitted last year are from Minnesota. Presently, a preponderance of two-year schools offering the same courses has undermined the argument that the General College offers education unavailable anywhere else because much of the education offered is remedial in nature. In many cases, the cost of attending lower-division programs such as Normandale or Brown College is more economical. Other universities similar to the University of Minnesota have cut their general colleges in recognizing that such programs are dispensable.

The General College’s minority population is significantly higher than the rest of the University. Nonwhite students represent 40 percent of the General College’s population compared to a mere 13 percent in the University’s overall population. There is no question the General College improves campus diversity. This, however, should be an additional benefit and not the main focus of the General College. It should not merely act as a “quota factory” supporting the illusion that the University is very diverse. Some have questioned the academic worth of the General College. Academic fraud stemming from athletics coaches pressuring and rewarding teachers to help student-athletes cheat has been detrimental. Currently, a quarter of the University’s male athletes are enrolled in the General College. Again, low graduation rates are a factor. Diversity and success can exist in unison.

Closing the General College would be justified by financial necessity and acknowledgment that students can receive equal, if not better, education at lower-cost community colleges. But ultimately, the General College’s emphasis on preparation for college exposes the inability of some high schools to provide a base education necessary for advancement. High schools should be a stepping stone toward post-secondary education – any other purpose seems superfluous. The University alone cannot carry the burden of educating the victims of faulty secondary education.

The General College, though noble in purpose, is beyond the sensible scope of the University. The University has grown beyond some of its initiatives and through economic stresses will be forced to focus resources. Either the University must try to provide a legitimate education to all enrolled in the General College, or redirect those funds toward becoming a prestigious research institution. Pandering to ideals will only lead to mediocrity at the expense of the students and the state of Minnesota.

Karl Noyes is a member of the Daily

editorial board and can be reached at [email protected]