Guest column: UCORE goals are valuable for undergraduate students

Last week, a Daily Evergreen opinion column offered several positions on UCORE. At times these positions proved contradictory.

First, the author agreed with one particular goal of UCORE: to provide undecided students the possibility to explore options.

After five calculus courses had me well on my way to a math major, I finally registered for that required world history course I’d avoided for two years. Nine years later, I completed a Ph.D. in history.

It is safe to say that that would not have happened had I been allowed to breeze through college without ever taking a course outside my chosen major. I’m grateful for it.

Second, the author believed several UCORE goals to be worthwhile, including cultural competence, quantitative reasoning and creative writing. The majority of students that submit course feedback forms agree.

I’m thrilled that WSU requires its graduates to achieve basic competency in science, math, writing and cultural empathy. The world is better off when more of its inhabitants exercise such skills.

Third, “graduates would be just as successful in the real world without (these skills).” Instead, the author calls on WSU to offer what I suspect are imagined as practical classes in resume writing, tax filing and interview preparation.

I cannot fault the author for questioning the practicality of courses that do not directly contribute to one’s major, in large part because universities are not always great at messaging the long-term value of the skills developed through general education.

Combine this lack of communication with uncertain economic prospects, rising tuition costs, and faux-populist devaluation of knowledge, and it is unsurprising that one might question the usefulness of general education in the “real world.”

I assure readers that employers do not question the value of UCORE skills.

In 2015, Hart Research Associates asked U.S. employers which skills they found “very important for success in the workplace.” 81 percent named critical and analytical thinking. 82 percent named written communication — skills central to History 105 and English 101, for example.

96 percent agreed that graduates should be able to “solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.” The ability to empathize with diverse perspectives might just prove useful.

The Center for Education and the Workforce backs up employer surveys with earnings numbers. Mean earnings for jobs requiring a high degree (5th quintile) of written communication are 30 percent higher than the 4th quintile. 5th quintile problem solving jobs earn $65K. The 4th quintile? About 40K.

Our globalized, technology-driven world changes faster than that with which any four-year specialized degree can keep pace. Employers adopt new systems and methodologies constantly, and thus have to train and retrain their workforces. They recognize the benefits of such investments.

What employers will not invest in is an employee that isn’t also adaptable to these changes by virtue of a broad skill set.

However imperfect, that is what UCORE offers from first-year courses to senior capstones. The WSU faculty is committed to imparting those skills. It’s also up to students to take advantage of them.