In a moment when the “value” of postsecondary education has been repeatedly called into question, this study responds by identifying long-term effects of the undergraduate experience with particular attention to the general education curriculum. Specifically, it draws on 559 written responses from a wide range of alumni to identify which elements of their undergraduate education are still most salient. Of these elements, coursework emerged as most important for alumni, who cited its contributions to their development of self-understanding, interpersonal skills, career preparation, and intellectual skills such as critical thinking. Alumni also indicated that perceptions of coursework shifted with time so that courses that did not seem useful at graduation ultimately provided valuable preparation for their lives and careers. In negative accounts, alumni described a lack of guidance through curricular requirements. This study demonstrates an approach that can yield more nuanced and complex information about the general education curriculum’s long-term effects by including respondent writing as a supplement to the data gathered through closed-entry surveys. Analyzing what college alumni write about their undergraduate education proves not only to be a promising approach for understanding how to improve general education curricula more effectively, but to also further evidence for proclaiming the importance of general education.

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