November of last year, Kirsten Beachy, director of EMU’s Core Curriculum, formally proposed a decrease in the number of required credit hours to graduate from 128 to 120. It was not a new question, having been brought up first in 2007, but now the decrease has met near-approval.
To complete a bachelor’s degree at EMU, 128 credit hours are required. These hours include both core requirements and major requiremets. If these areas total less than 128 hours, students must find electives to take. Undergraduate Academic Dean Deirdre Smeltzer is working closely with this change. She said, “128 is on the high end of what colleges require now, and 120 is the most common.”
The main argument for a decrease in credit hours is that 128 is a lot to handle. “In order to get 128 in four years you have to take an average of 16 hours a semester for every semester, which can be a pretty heavy course load. Bumping it down to 120 makes it 15 credit hours a semester,” Smeltzer said. “We can still have the same experience, but make it a bit more manageable. We want as many people to complete their degree as possible.” With this change, hopefully fewer students will drop out of EMU after one or two years. Smeltzer said, “Even if some students are able to finish a little early, hopefully more will be able to stay.” Those staying for a full four years will offset those graduating sooner.
Kevin Seidel, literature professor and President’s Cabinet Faculty representative, approves of the change, but pointed out one other issue. “A lot of students conditionally admitted are told to take 12 credits at the start [of their college career], and that pattern continues,” Seidel said. “If they have trouble starting, they’ll have trouble finishing.” Students will be encouraged to take at least 15 credits to start to get them used to the classes and workload of college. The Community College Research Center at Columbia University reported that students are more likely to graduate starting with 15 credits instead of 12. They have found it more sustainable for students to get used to the workload they will need to maintain all four years.
This change also benefits students financially. “With financial aid based off of standard or satisfactory academic progress, and that’s based off percentage of hours completed, it’s easier for students to receive that financial aid, as it is often what allows students to continue attending EMU,” Smeltzer said.
When this proposal first came up in 2007, one concern was about upholding our well-rounded liberal arts school education. However, general education and liberal arts core class requirements will not change, and neither will majors. It is simply the electives that will decrease if a student needs it to be so. This certainly does not mean a student cannot take more than 120 hours. This simply lessens the stress of requirements by eight hours.
Smeltzer said, “We care a lot about what kind of education our students are getting.” According to EMU’s accrediting guidelines, any degree requires at least 120 credit hours. “So we won’t be going below 120,” said Smeltzer.
Feedback from professors and students is mostly positive. Seidel said, “I can’t see how it would change day to day work for professors,” and pay as faculty is connected to number of credit hours students receive from the professor’s classes, not from total required credit hours. “That’s a fiction used to determine fairness, but I don’t think it has any bearing in reality,” Seidel said.
Regarding research done by Beachy and institutional researcher Scott Barge, both the Undergraduate Council and the Provost Council find this requirement change to be overall beneficial. Time will tell what the actual outcome is in terms of student enrollment and success rate. The President’s Cabinet will vote on the proposal on Oct. 11. Should it pass, the change will affect the first-years of fall 2018 and onward.