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Editorial: Stringent prerequisites

For the first time, this fall, ACES Web will enforce prerequisites in economics courses for undergraduates, as administrators ponder requiring even more prerequisites for advanced classes.

It makes sense that the economics department, with over 1,000 majors, would seek to enforce requirements, as the higher level classes require students to have the fundamental information in order to tackle more difficult concepts. The accompanying test of mathematical skills that will accompany the new prerequisite enforcement makes even more sense, as it ensures students have the required knowledge before entering a class. It also enables students with sufficient knowledge to move on without introductory courses that would otherwise be a review of already learned ideas and simply a waste of their time. In short, the new tests will prevent students not ready for certain classes from getting into a course too difficult for them while also not holding back those students who would get little or nothing from basic prerequisite courses.

For the majority of Duke undergraduates, enforcing prerequisites would be a good idea, but they are not appropriate for the few who would be held back by such enforcement. The fact is that prerequisites function best as suggestions, especially for a student body as allegedly bright and motivated as Duke students. Ultimately, students should be given the right to choose. After all, they are paying for education and should be given the freedom to choose what they can and cannot handle.

Moreover, one of the reasons why drop-add period is two weeks long is to give students the chance to realize whether they have the intellectual tools to properly analyze the coursework throughout the remaining semester. The drop/add period addresses those concerns; students and faculty just need to realize that drop/add should be utilized. Students should sit in on multiple classes and realize that their schedule is still flexible, and they need to keep their options open.

Many faculty members have complained that when students enroll in advanced courses without prerequisites, the advanced courses turn into de facto introductory-level courses with too much review of concepts that should have already been learned. Such an approach, however, has undermined the suggestive power prerequisites have. Rather than enforcing prerequisites, professors should not pander to the lowest skill levels in supposedly advanced courses, leaving students the options of dropping a course and taking the prerequisite, learning the necessary skills on their own or failing the class.

As other departments consider following in the footsteps of the economics department, they should show caution.

In majors such as public policy, in which advanced-level courses are not dependent on prerequisites, students wait until their junior and senior year to take those prerequisites and there aren't even enough slots for all majors to take those prerequisites, strict enforcement would be not only ill-advised, but also impossible.


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