Alex writes about reconceptualizing general education at Buffalo. I’m thinking about general education as well, given the decline in enrollment in my department, and my upcoming WPA presentation about its implications for our writing program. For better or worse, WIU isn’t to the point of refactoring the whole gened process yet, and might never be, given the articulation infrastructure already in place in Illinois, and our embrace of the “2+2” role for the university. Given that rising community college enrollment is a trend nationwide, even if it’s not yet possible to rethink gened as a whole, we need to ask hard questions about the center position of general education requirements in English & Journalism.
At least on the short term, declines in gened are a serious problem for us, since it makes up a large part of our coursework. I suspect that’s true of many English departments. The issue might press on my department a little more heavily than most since (a) we recently rewrote the English major to use 200-level geneds for much of the the required “core” of courses (changes not yet on the WIU web site), and (b) I’ve also heard many of our majors are recruited through general education. Though I’ve never seen any proof of the latter, obviously, if it’s true, gened declines would be doubly troubling, since we’d see cascading impacts in our 300 and 400 level literature and writing courses. (One indicator the “gened recruiting” hypothesis is not true: while our number of majors has declined in the past 10 years, the rate of decline hasn’t matched the loss in geneds we’ve seen.)
On the writing side, the numbers look like this. (I have similar numbers for literary studies, but only the past four years.) Here’s enrollment in our three comp courses expressed as a percentage of lower division undergraduates enrolled:
By semesters, from a high point of 50.2% in Fall 2002, we are at 43% in Spring 2010. A similar pattern emerges if we consider annual numbers: the headcounts for the last three years, respectively, were the lowest for any of the last ten. It will be very interesting to see if next year’s numbers continue this trend.
For me, the big takeaway is simply expressed: I think we can count on students taking more general education courses in community colleges. I’ve read some articulation agreements and the like this past week, and I don’t think we can do much to stop it. And the more I think about it, I’m unsure that’s the right response anyway. So we’ve got to diversify our roster of courses and strengthen the non-gened parts of our programs. I have a feeling that won’t be easy, though it may be less difficult for the writing side of the department than for literary studies.