In 2013, professor of political science David Crockett wrote in to the Trinitonian about a potential change in the definition of a credit hour. Crockett mentioned a meeting at which the the Faculty Senate would vote to change the definition of a credit hour.
At the time, the 2009–2010 Courses of Study Bulletin defined the credit hour as a “one 50-minute period of recitation or lecture, or three such periods of laboratory work, each week for a semester of 15 weeks” with the recommendation of two hours of preparation or study outside of class.
At that meeting, Crockett mentioned that the Faculty Senate voted to decouple credit and contact hours. Before, if you took a three-credit-hour class, that class met for three hours a week. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Now, credit hours reflect the amount of work done outside of the course too.
As of 2013, more and more classes are valued at four credits, though some meet for three or fewer hours a week. The extra hour is an expectation of rigorous, out-of-classroom work that before was merely a suggestion.
The discussion is a difficult and confusing one. For students, it might not seem like a huge deal, but the topic is divisive among professors. In 2018, the Trinitonian reported on this academic dilemma.
Some said that it’s unfair to offer more four-credit courses because it limits students to fewer classes, which means less face-time with professors. Some disagreed: Fewer classes means more focus on specific subjects.
Other professors pointed out that the decoupling of the credit and contact hours did nothing to resolve the interdepartmental miscommunication of the value of the credit hour. How do you ensure that every faculty member in every department is measuring the workload of every student in all of their classes?
The change allows more freedom to the professor at the cost of a student’s over-commitment and confusion of the worth of their work.
Sure, the University Curriculum Council approves courses and the amount of credit they get, but departments have their own measures of how long it will take to do certain assignments (e.g. how long it will take to read or write a certain number of pages).
Now, the conversation hasn’t changed much. We followed up on that 2018 story this month. The arguments professors have provided are the same as they were in 2018, and they are the same as they were when the Faculty Assembly officially approved the new definition in October of 2013.
A key consistency is the lack of student engagement with the topic. Shouldn’t we care more? Shouldn’t we be concerned beyond the initial confusion and disdain for the policy altogether?
Ultimately, students are paying for a certain number of credit hours but aren’t spending that time in the classroom. At the end of his op-ed, Crockett acknowledges this problem within the conversation: “This debate concerns the future of a Trinity education. What do you, the students, think?”