Why credit hours don’t matter in the real world

New America Foundation’s recently released report “Cracking the Credit Hour” says that “one-third of employers think college graduates are not prepared to succeed on the job.”


You’re worried. You’re thinking you need more credit hours and quick. You’re not working hard enough — maybe enrolling in that geology class will make you more prepared. Gasp. Grab your stuff; we can make it to the Registrar’s Office in five minutes!

Stop. Deep breaths.

The root of the problem is this absent-minded attachment to credit hours. We rank ourselves on an arbitrary scale based on an arbitrary and flawed system. The number of credit hours taken never has — and never will — accurately reflect how much a student learns.

A biology lab that takes up four hours per week grants one credit. A mythology class with take-home exams awards three. See the discrepancy?

You’re still itching to dash over to the Registrar. You’re really thinking that three more credits will make the difference between homelessness and a sixth-floor apartment with a view.

The report also shows that “69 percent of college graduates could not perform basic tasks like comparing opposing editorials comparing the cost per ounce of different foods.”

Before you lament the absence of journalistic or culinary classes on campus, take another breath. And think: The reason graduates can’t complete simple assignments lies in their love affair with credit hours and complete abandonment of learning.

Rather than taking courses that actually result in knowledge, today’s students cling to General Education Requirements and major requirements. We’re elated when we find a four-credit class with minimal homework, but we cry when we find ourselves struggling with a foreign concept.

We don’t realize the importance of the actual application of course material. We can memorize the definition of “squander” yet don’t realize when we’re squandering our educational experience.

Sure, 18 credit hours seems heroic. Look at that kid on the second floor of Swem with 22 credits and a pending override — surely he’ll make it big! Side note: Thank you, Swem, for banning tents. That was ridiculous and sad.

What we fail to see is the real world. It’s right there, but instead we see a maze of major requirements, credit hours and Banner. We don’t know how to stop and sit at the Daily Grind and discuss ideas with fellow students and faculty. All we see are office hours and how to get help for a problem set.

There’s a very real reason we fail in the work force: We fail to learn life in college. All we learn is how to Banner-stalk.

While you might not be gearing up to hit the Registrar’s Office now, you probably still don’t like me very much. I’ve told you that we learn the wrong way, and we miss out on that whole life-experience thing. You simply point to your beautiful transcript and impeccable GPA.

One last statistic from that report: “In 1961, 15 percent of all grades were A’s. That number rose to 43 percent by 2008.”

Inflation isn’t just a term on your economics quiz; it’s an issue preventing your future success. With every student sleeping in class and then waking when they hear “extra credit,” comes a rise in apathetic professors. Learning matters, but the fight against whining students just isn’t worth it. An “A” is the easy way out.

As an illustrious resume and transcript become more readily available, our learning spirals downhill. When we can’t find a job, we curse the thousands of students with perfect attendance and 4.0 GPA’s. When we do find a job and then find a pink slip on Friday afternoon, we curse our professors who didn’t teach us the simple stuff. It’s never our fault.

Wrong. It is. And the solution is simple: Realize that the number of credits you take doesn’t determine the future.

You do.

Email Chris Weber at cmweber@email.wm.edu.


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