In any given semester, a student’s class schedule will often include courses with varying degrees of difficulty and class work. Some classes just require more effort, more work and more time — though all classes count for a similar number of credit hours. Consequently, many students find themselves enrolled in courses that require them to be in class or in lab for far more time than is reflected on their transcripts. Why? Because the University insists on sticking to course measurements that do not fairly assess its classes’ time commitments or workload. This problem is not just students complaining about being in class longer than they want to be, but also students falling behind in their degree plan because of a bad academic policy.
“The general rule of thumb is any one hour that is given credit, that equates to one hour of meeting time per week over the course of the semester,” Vice Provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield said. “A three-hour course would meet for three hours a week, for a total of 45 hours a semester.”
As Stanfield explained, the faculty and curriculum committees within each college determine the credit hours warranted for each course based on this “rule of thumb.”
The amount of work necessary for a single credit hour is determined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but Stanfield said that simply serves as a minimum for the number of course hours awarded. That means a faculty committee can allot three hours of credit even for a class that meets more than three hours a week.
Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said the unfair credit system is a problem the Senate hears about often.
“If you have a lab that gives you two hours’ worth of credit, but you’re consistently spending five hours a week in a lab, why shouldn’t you get something that accurately represents the amount of work that went into your project?” Clark said. “We commonly hear that from engineering and natural sciences students. It is certainly something the University should take a closer look at and be proactive on.”
Clark said the problem is felt most acutely in STEM courses, which often include lab sections with hands-on work. But the problem exists in courses from any college that require labs, studio time or discussion sections.
Studio art junior Haylie Weathersby said studio courses cause art students similar issues to the ones seen in the science labs.
“The studios are four-hour classes, twice a week, but you’re only getting credit for three hours,” Weathersby said. “There is only a couple of time slots from [8 a.m to 12 p.m.], 2-6 p.m. or sometimes even a 6-10 p.m., so you have to plan around your lunch break or work and the other required classes you need outside of art.”
Weathersby said the difficulty of getting the right classes at the right times in the day can be a problem for art students and can put them behind schedule.
There is no question that hands-on work — whether it be in biology or ceramics — takes time. And certainly, not every course offered on campus should be limited to a three-hour time slot. But the University should understand that the extra in-class time required for a course should be reflected in credit toward a degree.
Michael Morton, former president of the Senate of College Councils, said that the Senate has tried to tackle this problem before but has had no success.
“It’s an issue that is never going to be resolved unless you redid the entire curriculum or degree plans,” Morton said. “[Members of Senate of College Councils] had discussions about it with President [William Powers Jr.], provost [Steven] Leslie and at the time Vice Provost Gretchen Ritter, though everyone’s left, about how it would be implemented and how you could get a fair credit for class. In our discussions with Powers, he didn’t see it as an issue we could resolve and there were better issues to focus on for helping students with other hiccups in the actual degree plans.”
Morton said the simple solution of increasing the course credit label to the actual number of hours required — i.e., an intensive 3-credit-hour lab that actually takes up 8 hours of class time would become an 8-credit-hour class — doesn’t help if the degree plan also becomes more difficult to accomplish. Moreover, this solution bypasses addressing the problem of fair course credit assessment.
Admittedly, restricting curriculum and redistributing course credit would be a massive overhaul for the University’s course catalog. But there’s no point in sticking to a flawed system just because it’s already there.