After visiting seven universities to examine their implementation of four-class, four-credit systems, a task force of GW faculty, administrators and student representatives is set to decide by March whether to recommend such a plan.
If the plan is recommended, it will then be discussed by each of the schools within the University, the Faculty Senate and GW’s senior staff.
Donald Lehman, executive vice president of Academic Affairs, assembled the task force in March 2005 to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the implementation of the plan, which would require students to take four classes, worth four credits each, in a semester.
Lehman sees a shift to a four-by-four plan as being a positive change in the identity of GW that would allow it to “become an environment with greater student engagement and greater student challenge.” He also noted that students at the universities he visited tended to perceive their learning in the classroom and their interactions with professors as their “keys to success.”
But junior Charlie Leizear, one of two student members of the task force, said that while the group remains objective at this point, he has not noticed a correlation between greater academic achievement and adoption of a four-by-four plan. Leizear visited Boston University, Northeastern University and Tufts University, which are all in the Boston area.
“The whole idea behind the four-by-four plan is increased academic engagement at GW,” Leizear said. “In my opinion, there was not blatant and evident evidence that the four-by-four was the reason behind academic engagement.”
Lehman said most students at GW look to find success through their jobs and internships – not academics. “Expectations outside of the classroom are much greater,” Lehman said. “A lot more pressure is put on the students to do research and then bring the research back to the classroom.”
Lehman said that while he sees four-by-four as being a source of greater academic engagement and challenge in a school, the task force has yet to discuss the financial consequences of the plan, which will also play a part in the task force’s decision. Detractors of the plan contend it will keep students from taking many electives and reduce the number of courses offered.
Martin Weiner, the registrar at Swarthmore College, which GW visited, said around 100 universities employ a four-by-four system, including Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University.
Weiner said he sees the benefits of a four-by-four system at his university.
“It’s clear we’re expecting students to get more out of their classes than a five-course system … the students can go into better depth in each course,” he said.
The focus on a curriculum that requires four classes per semester instead of five is not new. Boston University made the change 30 years ago, while New York University and Duke adopted a new plan around 20 years ago. GW visited all of those schools.
If the task force decides to recommend the plan, it will be the third time the plan has been suggested in the last 15 years. In 1992, a four-by-four plan was proposed as a way to give faculty members more time to do research by reducing their teaching loads. In 2003 the plan was linked with a mandatory summer session. Both propositions were rejected.