The designation of course credit hours often seems confusing, if not downright arbitrary. The credit hour system is necessary to show that students completed an undergraduate degree; students must be able to show that they both took and passed classes. Any system that attempts to assess long-term knowledge based on credit hours is impractical. While we hope that students gain knowledge from their courses, there is absolutely no way to measure this knowledge beyond verifying that each student passed the course. What we find problematic in the current system is that the credit hours assigned to classes in different majors do not appear to be assigned along the same guidelines. In general, credit hours are assigned to courses based on seat time in class, but what about labs, which meet for three hours each week and are only assigned one credit, and senior seminars, which also meet for three hours a week but are designated as four credits? As the College of William and Mary undergoes its curriculum review, we would like to see these issues addressed.
We believe the fairest ways to assign credits is to consider the amount of time in class students spend, as well as the amount of time outside of class students must spend in order to achieve a certain grade. While the amount of time will vary from student to student, we believe departments should consider the time taken out of students’ schedules when assigning credits to courses. By doing so, the College administration could show that no one department at the College requires significantly more class time from students than any other. This reevaluation of credit hours per course would make scheduling classes fairer for all students.
Furthermore, the 72-credit-hour rule should be removed. Limiting the number of credit hours students are permitted to take in one department leads to frustration when registering for classes and complications with double majors in overlapping fields. We understand that, as a liberal arts college, we must study across diverse subject areas. The revised curriculum should ensure the College is living up to its liberal arts claims; this would make the 72-credit-hour rule unnecessary.
Assigning credit hours to classes will always be necessary in the higher education curriculum. Without such guidelines, a college diploma is worthless. While assigning credit based on long-term knowledge gained may seem the most accurate way to reflect the value of a degree, realistically, this approach is impossible to implement. There is no practical measure for determining work completed in College other than accounting for the amount of time spent in class. We feel that the arbitrary nature of credits often fails to accurately reflect this measurement. College faculty and administration should include clear guidelines for assigning credit hours to courses so that everyone will be familiar with the meaning of a degree from the College. By reviewing and revising credit hours for courses, College administration will ensure that degrees are not given based on antiquated and seemingly pointless rules.
Editor’s Note: Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from the staff editorial to remain unbiased in her reporting.