Bitter and Angry

My college administration is forcing through a change to a 3 credit hour base for all classes. Currently we have a mixed 3 & 4 credit hour system, determined by department. That may sound odd, but it’s actually pretty common–out of 31 colleges in the set we use for comparison purposes, 8 have that split My department uses 4 hour classes, and we are very unhappy about this change. So are the other departments that use 4 credit hour courses. We were not consulted at all, and the announcement was made in such a way as to ensure there would be no opportunity for an actual discussion.

Here’s the rub. There are some good schools that use a 3 credit hour system, but in general it’s more commonly associated with lower-quality schools. 8 of the 16 schools that form our prior and current “peer” institutions list use the 3 credit hour system, and not one uses a 4 credit hour system. 5 of the 15 schools that form our prior and current “aspirant” institutions list (the schools we use as the model to which we aspire) use the 3 credit system, and 7 use the 4 credit hour system. It’s depressing to see my administration making decisions that tie us more closely to the model of our peers than our aspirants.

I will have to cut 14 hours, 25%, from my American Government class. And yet I’m told that this change won’t affect academic quality. I guess that means 25% of my class time to date has been an utter waste.

Funny, but I thought I’d be a better judge of that than someone who’s never set foot in my classroom.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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5 Responses to Bitter and Angry

  1. Lance says:

    At IUPUI I teach both three and four credit hour courses. I much prefer the four credit hour format. The short duration of the three credit hour classes (1 hour and 15 minutes twice a week) does not afford adequate time to do anything but briefly summarize the topic and give a few examples.

    There are certain math and science courses that simply demand even five credit hour classes(Classical Mechanics, Calculus for Scientists and Engineers etc.) I realize you are teaching at a liberal arts college but how does your college teach subjects in three credit hours that other colleges and universities require four and five credit hours to teach?

  2. James Hanley says:

    Lance, the rumor is we’ll be required to do our courses in 3 50-minute blocks per week, which will be even worse than your 2 75-minute blocks, given half-again as much startup time.

    As to your question, I’d note that a) other schools are doing it, so there must be a way to do so (although that doesn’t mean that way isn’t inferior), and b) labs create an exception to the rule, so a science course can have 3 lecture hours then a lab. I suppose there are some topics that may need to be broken into a two-course sequence, too? And of course it’s not just the sciences that will face those issues–if you cut 25% out of a Renaissance Literature course, do you cover 25% less Renaissance lit (and pretend the students actually learned enough) or do you split it into two courses and add half again as much over the course of two terms?

    What’s really troublesome, though, is that so far the reason given is more efficient utilization of classroom space, so that logistics are driving academics instead of vice versa.

  3. How does the switch from 3/4 to 3 only affect the number of classes a student can take in a given semester? I can imagine a scenario where a university that offers 3-credit classes enables students to take more classes (i.e., not go over the maximum number of credits per semester) and graduate sooner and hopefully pay less.

    Of course, it shouldn’t be only about jumping through hoops to get a credential: students have to learn and their learning might suffer from having one less hour. And for all I know, your school might make it easier to take more than the maximum load (I think some charge more if the student takes more than 18 credits; however, I don’t know that for a fact. My undergraduate institution only required that the department head sign off on it.)

  4. James K says:

    James Hanley:

    3 hours really doesn’t seem enough for a full course, 4 is standard in New Zealand. BTW, do you have any tutorials on top of that?

  5. James Hanley says:

    James K,

    No, no tutorials. It’s not entirely clear to me what their purpose is, but it’s clear they haven’t really thought through the academic effects of it.

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