Remember Who’s Paying for Education


The Mason Core is designed to give students a “well-rounded educational experience” and to guarantee they are exposed to many different subjects and classroom environments. The Mason Core requires that students take courses designated as foundational, explorational and integrational. The foundation classes should build baseline skills and knowledge, exploration courses should expose students to new areas of study, and integration classes should meld skills gained from foundational courses with the student’s major.

Sounds noble, right?

While useful in theory, the Mason Core does not work in practice. As students continually trudge through core classes with contempt and irritation, they pursue “easy A” classes to fulfill their requirements and move on to courses they have a legitimate interest in. While it’s clear that Mason makes a goodhearted attempt at giving students a well-rounded education, it is equally clear that the core curriculum is in desperate need of repair.

The fundamental problem with the Mason Core is not merely that it is required — it is that uninteresting classes are required. Mason has created a very similar environment to required P.E. in high school, where students begrudgingly show up and put forth minimal effort to pass. Students pursuing a BA who have to fulfill a quantitative reasoning credit sign up for the easiest math class they can find, get through it as easily as possible, and never return to the subject again.

The problem here is that, via the core curriculum, students are occasionally forced to take classes that will not help them in the way intended, wasting both time and money. As I pay $10,000 a semester for my education, I don’t exactly want to pay for a class that will not be significant.

As students, we need to remind the administration that we are the customers, and the product is our education. If we are paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for this product, we should get better than boring, seemingly useless classes. Imagine if instead of competing with other universities on cushy amenities, Mason made the pitch to prospective students that becoming a Patriot means getting a genuinely interesting core curriculum. Who wouldn’t want a community of students looking forward to a unique general education?

Required classes tend to be the dullest. Most high school experiences are pretty dull, and students don’t want to do that again in college, so marketing an interesting first two years to prospective students would go a long way to attracting the best minds from around the country.

My criticism of the core curriculum is not absolute. The concept of making students take certain classes to build an educational foundation and explore other areas of study is, as I said earlier, noble in theory. Certain classes should be required for everyone, such as basic English classes, because every field needs English. However, not every field requires natural science, so if we are going to require all students to take them, they should be designed to be interesting to students who will never take another course in those subjects again.

If you want well-rounded scholars, you need a well-rounded curriculum, and you don’t get that by just covering a lot of stuff. The Mason Core should not be a hunt for easy A’s — it should be something for Mason students to look forward to.

After all, we’re paying the bill.

This essay is part of Fourth Estate’s special opinion section on the Mason Core curriculum from the Feb. 24, 2020 issue. Check out the lead essay here, which includes links to all the other essays.