General education is the set of requirements that every student at a college or university, regardless of major, must fulfill. The faculty of a particular school indicate that in order for a graduate of the institution to be considered “educated,” they must have fulfilled these requirements. In other words, completing these requirements indicates that the faculty believes the graduate is generally educated. Each institution of higher education develops its own “flavor” of general education, focusing on that institution’s particular values, although there are many similarities across general education programs.
Typically, the requirements of the general education program focus on the development of basic understanding of a variety of disciplinary perspectives (e.g., science) on the world as well as the development of skills (e.g., written communication) that every generally educated person should be able to demonstrate.
Ideally, the general education program is intimately related to the student’s major course of study. The major course of study focuses on the content a graduate in that particular field should know and understand while the general education program focuses on what some have called “soft skills” (e.g., collaboration, problem-solving, communication, etc.). Ideally, the major program embeds some of these soft skills and the general education program uses content knowledge as a way to practice the soft skills. Sometimes (as is the case at PSU), the requirements of either the general education program or the major program (or both) make the relationship between the two programs explicit.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities “is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy” (from https://www.aacu.org/about). AACU engages in significant work related to general education at individual institutions as well as at the regional and national level. They provide many valuable resources related to general education (see https://www.aacu.org/resources/general-education).