Education

General Studies Program Offers Options for Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — It’s not uncommon for college students to be blindsided by situations that derail their path to earning a degree. It could be a personal issue, a financial setback, or as so many realize belatedly, the field they thought would lead to a great career isn’t the field they want to pursue.

Or, students’ academic pursuits are interrupted by demands at work, causing many to delay earning their degree with the intent to return.

Jumping from one major to another or starting from scratch in an entirely new academic curriculum can be time consuming and costly. The key is to find a way to apply academic credits earned to the completion of a baccalaureate in a timely fashion, while opening up futures students likely haven’t considered.

“They begin to think about things that they thought they couldn’t do,” says Molly Burdette, program coordinator and academic adviser of the general studies program at Youngstown State University. “It’s really helpful for those who have been working for a long time, but now feel they really need that B.A. to secure or advance in their job.”

That’s the drive behind YSU’s general studies program, which graduates between 30 and 40 students every semester – including summer – and boasts an enrollment of 350 or so, Burdette says. “When this first started, they expected to have maybe two or three each semester,” she says. “For the past seven or eight years, general studies has been one of the top-five graduating majors every semester.”

The program not only offers a way for students to complete a degree, it serves as a means of acquiring an interdisciplinary education that can be accessed through all areas YSU offers, Burdette says. “In general studies, you can combine two areas of focus into one degree,” she says. “You can have an area of focus on any subject that YSU offers a major, minor, associate’s [degree] or certificate in.”

Vinny Vivacqua, who will graduate in August with a baccalaureate in general studies, says the program fit perfectly for him.

Vivacqua had completed two years of jazz performance at Ohio State University but returned home to complete his degree at YSU. However, advisers at the Dana School of Music said that many of his credits he earned at OSU would not transfer to Dana’s music program.

“I still wanted my undergraduate degree,” Vivacqua says, but he didn’t believe it necessary to repeat some of the same steps and courses at Ohio State.

Through the general studies program, nearly all of his credits – 90% – were applied in some way toward a bachelor’s degree. “It took me about two years to finish. I had to meet some upper division credit requirements, and that was it.” He should complete his work with a focus on music and graduate in August.

“It’s a great program for transfer students like me who run into this problem,” he says. “Now, I’m thinking about graduate school.”

Those working toward a baccalaureate in general studies must complete between 18 and 24 semester hours of class work in their two areas of focus. Graduation requirements are the same as for any other degree – 124 semester hours with a minimum of 21 upper division hours and 16 concentration hours.

What makes the program appealing is that students often find they have enough classwork in certain fields of study that apply toward a focus area in general studies, Burdette says. Moreover, it helps students realize other potential career opportunities that they might not have considered.

“Sometimes, you don’t think about your options in other disciplines,” Burdette says. One student, for example, entered the program with an associate’s degree in dietetics. “As I talked to him, I thought that he would be fabulous working in higher education in either recreation or residence life. Now, he’s got a background in psychology and wants to pursue his master’s in student affairs,” she relates. “It gave him that passion to finish up.”

Others have selected areas of focus completely unrelated to one another, Burdette notes. “One student was a voice major way back when,” she relates. “The student came back wanting to improve their computer skills for the job market, took classes in computer science and loved it.”

Online courses are helpful to those trying to balance work and education, Burdette adds. Military personnel who serve overseas, for example, have taken courses toward finishing a general studies program at YSU. “Some already have 60 to 70 hours of coursework – which counts as a focus area,” she says. “So, they might just need some more coursework and hours to complete their degree.”

The program was developed 10 years ago to address student retention and to find ways to draw students back to the university who left before earning a degree, says Jane Kestner, interim associate dean of YSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

“In the past, students would get to a certain point in their chosen major and hit a roadblock,” Kestner says. “So, there was nowhere for them to go and use the credits they had to complete their degree.”

General studies lets these students use their courses in a flexible way to earn that degree, the associate dean says. “It could be older folks who might be at a point in their job where they need a four-year degree. It could be that the only thing holding them back is that credential.”

Pictured: Molly Burdette and Jane Kestner say the general studies program was developed to address student retention issues.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.