According to a survey of over 1,000 public and private four-year colleges and universities in the United States, only three percent require economics courses to graduate.
The study, released by The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization with the goal of upholding higher education standards, also shows that other core classes, such as American history and foreign language, are graduating requirements for less than one-fifth of institutions surveyed.
The direct connection between a base knowledge of American history and annual income drawn by the study indicates people who lack a general grasp of the subject tend to earn less money per year than those who could answer one or two basic questions correctly.
“History provides a sense of perspective,” Plattsburgh State History Professor Mark Richard said. “A lack of historical knowledge can be damaging.”
PSUC also dropped its foreign language requirement in 2011, which required students to take two language classes.
“Students are being short-changed,” said PSUC Department of Modern Languages and Cultures Professor and Chair Jean Ouedraogo. “They are focusing on the short-term and not seeing the consequences. An essential component of the college experience is not being met.”
Calling foreign language a “contributing factor to success,” Ouedraogo said he urges students to look out for their best interests.
“We live in a world that is more globalized than ever,” Ouedraogo said. “Having knowledge of a foreign language, regardless of the language, gives you a leg up in any situation.”
Economics courses, which are most often required for business majors, are not a PSUC general education requirement. PSUC Professor of Economics Justin Wampler said although he would not mandate these classes, he believes at least some understanding can help teach basic techniques.
“You won’t get far in life if you can’t balance a checkbook,” Wampler said, adding that retirement as an example of when financial management skills would be useful.
“Everyone, at some point, will be interested in their retirement savings,” he said. “If you don’t have any knowledge, you’re going to have to pay someone to do it.”
In regards to a deeper comprehension of economics and the potential benefits that understanding might give a graduate entering the job market, Wampler said he believes it depends on the field — people seeking jobs in the media may need these skills in order to understand charts and statistics and report on them.
Wampler said although receiving his degree from the University of Chicago, where more than half of his courses were general education classes, may make him “slightly biased,” he believes being knowledgeable in a variety of fields is important.
“We do need people to be specialized in certain fields,” Wampler said. “But most people are better served, in general, being well-rounded.”
Email Thomas Marble at firstname.lastname@example.org.