The rationale for a general education requirement for graduation is based on the educational goals of Western Michigan University. We review these goals before stating the goals of undergraduate general education:
To help each student develop the ability to think critically and objectively, to locate and assess information, and to communicate clearly and effectively in speaking and in writing; to expose each student to the knowledge and insights essential to significant participation in our increasingly technological, interdependent, and rapidly changing world; to assure that each student has the opportunity to examine the central role of ethics and values in the shaping of meaningful lives; to structure the learning experience so that students can appreciate and understand the importance and consequences of our diverse cultural and ethnic heritage; to instill in students a lifelong love of learning and a desire for involvement in the world of learning; and to enable students to acquire mastery of a field of inquiry or profession sufficient for an understanding of its methods, its subject matter, and its future in our world.
An additional basis for the general education requirement is the statement of goals for Western Michigan University contained in the report of the University Committee on Undergraduate Education, published in October 1971:
The major concern of Western Michigan University is the education of its undergraduate students, and it is committed to provide the environment and the means to enable these students:
A bachelor's degree should signify that the individual to whom it is granted has had a broad and balanced education, as well as concentrated studies in at least one discipline or area of knowledge. It should also signify that the individual has acquired intellectual skills that are applicable across a wide range of endeavors, as well as those narrower skills appropriate to a specialization. Thus the University requires structured plans of study leading toward both a specialized and general education.
Specialized education—the primary objective of concentrated study in majors, minors, and curricula—normally restricts the scope of concern in order to ensure a detailed, specific competence in techniques and subject matter. It seeks to accomplish these ends through a program of study comprising a number of segments (courses) taught by specialists and planned to contribute to the whole; the intended result is a person with particular information and a set of skills and abilities usually shaped by specific job demands and descriptions. Often the goals of specialized education are determined or strongly influenced by external agencies, e.g., accrediting bodies or professional field demands, as much as by the stated goals of the University.
General education, on the other hand, is concerned with the breadth and balance of learning, and with the versatility that comes with proficiency in intellectual skills that have universal application. General education should develop each student's knowledge, capacity for expression and response, and critical insight to help the student become a capable, well-informed, and responsible citizen of a culturally diverse society in a complex world. To this end, the University's general education program aims to improve the student's competence in mathematics and language, both oral and written, and to foster the will and ability to think clearly, critically, reflectively, and with as much precision as the subject allows. While requiring a degree of proficiency of everyone, the University's general education program enables a student to master foundational intellectual skills through a sequence of related courses.
General education also seeks to extend the undergraduate learning experience beyond particular academic or professional concentrations. It aims to acquaint the student with essential subject matter and methods of knowing in the arts and humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, mathematics, and the natural (including applied) sciences. Moreover, it aims to enable the student to use technology appropriately, and to understand the value of individual health, fitness, and well-being. These aims are based on the belief that such learning enriches human experience and fosters understanding of oneself, others, and the world.
While the two kinds of education can thus be distinguished, they are essentially complementary, not antithetical, elements of an undergraduate education; and courses in each type often contribute to fulfilling the goals of the other. Study in depth can reward the student with a sense of competence and the sobering awareness of how much is yet to be learned in any field, while the broader perspective and the habit of seeking interrelationships enhance the benefits of specialized study. Furthermore, just as specialized programs mandate some breadth in a student's education, so should the general education program allow some study in-depth.