GW administrators and faculty are questioning the academic merits of a new credit system that would decrease the number of classes a student takes each semester.
The University is currently accepting feedback on an alternative academic calendar proposal that could change GW’s credit system and mandate a summer term for rising juniors.
A move to the four-by-four credit system would mean students would enroll in four four-credit courses per semester rather than the five three-credit classes they currently take. Although students would receive more credit for each class, GW is not required to lengthen class time.
Many members of the GW community said a downsize in the typical GW student’s course load would allow professors to cover material in greater depth and allow students to focus on fewer classes. But others are concerned that if students take fewer courses during their four years, they will miss opportunities to double major, will not explore electives and will not receive a thorough-enough education.
“I think increasing credit hours without increasing (classroom) time is just repackaging the curriculum, and it’s fraudulent,” said philosophy professor and member of the Faculty Senate William Griffith. “Lowering the course load is a reasonable proposal for a just means, but I think that it’s not educationally sound.”
Students are currently required to earn at least 120 credits – about 40 classes – to graduate. Depending on how the University would implement a four-by-four credit system, students would take eight to 10 fewer courses during the tenure.
However, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Craig Linebaugh called the proposed credit system “very appealing.”
He said there are solutions to arguments that students would lose learning time but that the University must “take a very close look” at its curriculum.
“What may come out of a revised curriculum are more courses that would cross disciplines,” Linebaugh said.
He added that a revised four-by-four curriculum would not increase the amount of time that students are in the classroom, but it would force courses to become more rigorous and demanding.
“I happen to be a believer of in-depth understanding rather than broad coverage of a subject,” Linebaugh said. “When you dig something out yourself – information you uncover – you tend to be able to remember it and use it more effectively.”
But Griffith said he doubts students will retain more knowledge from revamped classes.
“It’s possible for faculty to heavy up requirements in a given course … but when you’re dealing with undergraduates, they’re not really getting more out of it,” he said.
A committee of faculty and administrators formed last winter explored the pros and cons involving a switch to the new credit system and a mandatory summer term for rising juniors. It also outlined several ways to implement a four-by-four system.
In one version of a four-by-four system, assuming the University also mandates a summer term, a student would take four classes – each worth four credits – for seven semesters. The eighth semester would then be the mandatory summer, when students would take a full 12-credit course load. A student would graduate with 124 credits but would have taken only 31 classes.
Another option would require students to graduate with 120 credits. A student would have to take a four-by-four schedule for six fall or spring semesters and again during the mandatory summer. The student would then need to take only three four-credit classes during the eighth semester. Thus, taking 30 four-credit classes throughout a student’s time at GW would fulfill graduation requirements.
The committee found that as long as a summer session is not mandated, a four-by-four would not require additional faculty. Chair of the committee Charles Karelis said his team researched other universities that converted to a four-credit-per-semester system, including Tufts University, which found that adding more faculty was necessary.
“After students were allowed to take less than five classes, they were still taking five anyway,” Karelis said. “The university then underestimated how much their faculty would grow.”
GW officials said they do not yet know how the new credit system would be implemented or how it would affect requirements for majors and minors if GW were to make a switch. A second committee will begin researching the transition process in mid-November when the University plans to reach a decision on the matter.
Linebaugh remains hopeful that a four-by-four system could open up many possibilities to students at GW.
“The things faculty can do (under a four-by-four system) is only limited by their own creativity,” he said. “It’s not about better teachers, it’s about students learning more.”