Credit Model Discussion

The Credit Model Task Force released two reports examining the credit model issue. Because the March Faculty Meeting was canceled due to weather concerns, we will be discussing the reports at the April meeting and voting at the May meeting. In the meantime, this blog has been created to serve as an impromptu forum for asking and answering questions and concerns about the credit model proposals. Use the Reply area below to join the discussion. We have included the original reports, as well as those concerns and questions that have already been distributed via email below:

Note: Scroll down to enter a reply.

32 thoughts on “Credit Model Discussion

  1. I share many of John's concerns--especially regarding how/when/and where the required faculty lines would be phased in.

    I also worry that restructuring the curriculum--especially with the stress it would at least initially place on resources--would necessarily spell the demise of highly-specialized upper-level courses that traditionally have lower enrollments. In my department, for instance, would we really have the resources to offer an Advanced Technical Communication or Advanced Poetry Workshop--classes that rarely have enrollments larger than 9 or 10...but are nevertheless intensely meaningful for the students who take them?

    And yet, I am inclined to support the notion that students would benefit from concentrating on fewer classes.

    I think both reports are an excellent starting place and I want to applaud the entire task force again. But the devil will be in the details of the implementation. I don't like the precedent that would be set by the minority motion to ban discussion of this issue for seven years. But I also fear that voting to adopt a 4-credit system without first seeing an implementation plan that was devised by BOTH faculty and administration would be letting the genie out of the bottle too hastily.

    Scott Coykendall

  2. I, too, am very appreciative of the working group's efforts to describe both sides of this very complex problem. I have lots of questions.

    My academic area, athletic training, has a curriculum that is "governed" by an outside accrediting body. We are given a list of all of the content that we have to infuse into our curriculum. At this point, students complete 78.5 credits to cover all of the content areas, 40 of which are already 4 credit courses (3 credit lecture+1 credit lab). Regardless of whether we move to a 4 credit model or not, I'm not sure that I could eliminate much of what needs to be taught. One of the things that I could do is create new courses that would encompass the bits and pieces from existing courses. For example, our students need some of the background that is currently in the WECO and QRCO courses that they take. I could create a new class that incorporates that information, but that would mean that we would have to hire an instructor to teach it, and it would be a class that has very limited enrollment (I don't think very many other students would want to take a course that was so discipline specific). On the positive end, I could eliminate 4 credits of course-work. Does the positive out-weigh the negative?

    Another question I have deals with the 180-200 min/wk proposed class time for each 4 credit course. Our 4 credit courses meet now for 225 min/wk. We cannot eliminate any content (and therefore, time) from any of these classes. How will that component work in our major? There are other programs similar to this one (biology, chemistry, other sciences) that have 4 credit-type courses. I'm curious to hear what solutions they have for this dilemma.

    The last question that I'll pose today is about student success. The majority report talks about the potential for student success because students would take fewer courses during each semester, so could therefore devote more time to each class. There has been no mention of the fact that students work, play sports, do other extra-curricular activities, etc, etc. Are there any studies that actually show an increase in student's GPA's in a 4 credit system compared to a 3 credit system? There is reported anecdotal evidence, but I haven't seen any data to support it. Does a 4 credit system encourage students to engage with their higher education requirements more than a 3 credit system? What would prevent students from doing all of those non-academic things with their extra time?

    I also wonder about General Education, and would love to hear someone from that area talk about the effects of a 4 credit system on this program. What changes do they see needing to happen?


  3. Thanks to Scott for making this forum available in a new place.

    Reading John and Scott's responses reminds me that the general discussion, concerns about change, and questions about supportability might come down to specific cases. John mentions Composition, so I'll start there since I know something about it.

    In my opinion, our Composition course would be better served by a 4-credit system. Many teaching Comp talk a lot about needing more time (this "course" is taught elsewhere and was previously taught here in 2 or 3 semesters, not just one), so we could use the extra time.

    Composition is probably not a good example for exploring staffing issues, but if we had to add additional sections within a 4-credit system, we could find qualified staff.

    -Elliott Gruner

  4. As chair of the nominating and balloting committee I hereby offer to run an email referendum ballot on this issue.

  5. According to the Provost, as of fall 2007, we had 191 full-time faculty [79 professors, 53 associate professors, 33 assistant professors, 20 contract faculty, 6 other] and 181 adjuncts.

    I strongly support the move to 4-credits. The intellectual benefits of the change are many. We are using a model that was developed for high school curricula (see A four-credit model will allow us to require students to do much more in-depth work (read, research, analyze, and write). I do not think that we should let the administrative problems (and they will be there) outweigh the many intellectual benefits - benefits that will accrue to both students and faculty.

    A next step could be the development of an implementation plan. Our vote at the faculty meeting could be to accept the 4-credit model pending approval of the implementation plan. Next year the plan could be developed. If passed, then the following year we could begin the transition. As the majority report notes, there are several institutions that have recently made the change. We can use their implementation plans as models and adapt them to our campus.

    But again, it is the intellectual benefits that should be the focus of this vote. Do you think it the change would benefit the students or not?

    Marcia Blaine

  6. Hi, everyone,
    I just wanted to give a little update in response to John K's email.

    First, I would like to refer people to Phil Lonergan's all-faculty email of March 11, which addresses a lot of John's questions.

    Second, I have an email in to Julie and Scott Mantie about calculating our current "Full Time Equivalent" faculty numbers. That is, I'm trying to find out how many full time faculty (not just tenure-track faculty) we currently need to cover all of our courses. While both the '200' and '213' numbers in the report are hypothetical (i.e., both based on a system in which all classes have an average of 25 students and they make no distinction between tenure-track or adjunct faculty), I thought it might be helpful to have a better understanding of the faculty we are currently using in a 3-credit curriculum. I will get back to you when I have that information and I will post it to the blog.


  7. Here's the email I sent to the all-fac list before I read Scott's email announcing this blog site. Hope it's useful to the conversation.


    Hi John,

    In theory, there would be no need to increase class size or add more faculty if we keep the credits to graduation the same as they are now. What you are referring to in the Majority Report is the section that looks at a scenario where students may decide to take 128 credits because if in the 4 credit model the graduation rate is 120, a student has two semesters where they only need to take 3 classes. Keep in mind that we have no way of controlling exactly how many credits (12 is now the minimum full time; more than 17 is special permission overload) our students take in either system. Students repeat courses, as you point out, which affects things a bit, but since 3 credits goes into 15 nicely and 4 goes into 16 nicely, on the 4 credit model we end up with the two semesters where a student only takes 12 credits. The task force attempted to take into account what might—in a very worst case scenario-- actually happen and not just the theory. Another thing to factor in here is that most majors require more that 120 credits to graduate already so we are much less close to the worst-case scenario than the Majority Report might imply.

    The report gives a number of possibilities for how to deal with the fact that we can’t always control the number of courses students elect to take in a given semester (this is no different for a 3-credit model than a 4-credit model, of course). The point here is that if students took 120 credits to graduate, the math suggests we would really not have to increase caps or add faculty. In fact, because most of our programs have more than 120 credits now, we can assume that students in the 4 credit system could take more than 120 credits and we would not have to raise caps or add faculty. If all students in the 4-credit system took close to 128 credits to graduate, we would have to make some adjustments (raise caps by 1-2, add some instructors). I don’t want to minimize the points folks are making in the math, but I don’t want people to oversimplify this into “if we switch to 4 credits we need to add 13 lines or make all our classes bigger,” which I believe to be very hyperbolic—almost incorrect in its logic.

    Rereading this section of the Majority Report might be useful for people who want to revisit the entire context for these numbers: see pages 20-21.

    John, as for your 2006 math, referred to in your latest email: I think I disagree with your fundamental thought about Composition, that “If we moved to a 4-credit system, wouldn't the 33 sections be reduced to 25 sections?” The flaw in the approach here is that you’ve taken our faculty load and, on the logic that it will be reduced by ¼, you have reduced the number of Comp sections by ¼. Although our faculty load (in terms of number of courses taught) gets reduced by ¼, we will choose to keep many of our required courses. The total numbers of courses students take will get consolidated to accompany the consolidation of faculty loads, but this does not mean that we just reduce the number of sections uniformly across the curriculum. There are pros and cons to this, no doubt, but I think it’s incorrect to assume that we would raise caps on required courses because of some unnecessary reduction in sections. I think the way to “solve” the Comp issue is not to raise caps, but to keep Gen Ed as a total program proportionate. In other words, if we switched to 4 credits, we would want to make sure that we did not increase the ratio of Gen Ed courses to the rest of the curriculum. No doubt there are some hard decisions here (add a credit in Comp and math, perhaps decrease the total number of Directions courses by one, etc), but since the Gen Ed philosophy is so clear, I don’t imagine it would be too difficult to retain the spirit and skill-sets of the program while making such adjustments.

    The Task Force worked with a number of institutions who recently made the switch to four credits. I personally spent a lot of hours meeting and exchanging emails with key implementation personnel from these campuses (including faculty, provosts, deans, and registrars), and I didn’t find a single issue that emerged during the implementation phase that wasn’t satisfactorily solved by the involved parties. It’s true that in some cases the TF discovered several possible ways to solve a single problem, so it is also true that our implementation phase would include some key decision-making, and that faculty would have to choose between different paths. But I feel good that the work of the TF can assure us all that implementation will be possible, will be a reasonable undertaking, and will not present us with unforeseen problems that would demand radical or unpredicted compromise. I think this switch would be healthy for the intellectual life of our faculty and students, and I hope we can continue to work out the details so we can realize the benefits that are in reach.

    Thanks to all for sticking with this dialogue, and thanks to John for your careful attention to the details.

    Phil Lonergan
    Art Department

  8. A comment on the athletic training curriculum. Linda Levy stated that the content is covered with 78.5 credits, "...40 of which are already 4 credit courses (3 credit lectuure + 1 credit lab)." This is not ten 4 credit courses, it is actually ten 3 credit courses and ten 1 credit courses. This would become ten 4 credit courses and ten 1 credit courses, increasing the content credits to 88.5 credits. (1 credit courses will still be allowed, 3 credit courses will change to 4.) This is what will happen to my University Physics course. PH242, lecture, 3 credits, will become 4, PH244, lab will stay 1. I teach 2 labs: 1 course, 1 lecture, 2 labs, 6 credits teaching load. 2 such courses will constitute a full teaching load. I usually teach 3 courses. Dennis

  9. I do not think the 7 year suggestion was intended as a gag rule. This is not the first time the 4 credit model has come up. If we vote against changing to a 4 credit model in May, the proponents can bring it up again next year if they wish, for a fourth (?) time. Hey, that means that if we do decide to make the change, the opponents can next fall call for a vote to not change after all. Can I go on record calling for a vote in October to not change to 4 credits, if we do decide in May to change? Thanks. Dennis

  10. Hi all,

    I'm confused by Dennis' comment that the courses in athletic training would become ten 4 credit courses and ten 1 credit courses. Although I understand that a department might CHOOSE to do that, is there anything in the majority report that suggests that would be the right way to move to a 4-credit curriculum? Couldn't a department choose to combine a 3 credit course with a 1 credit course to make a 4 credit course?

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. I'm looking forward to the discussion at the faculty meeting.


  11. Regarding Marcia's comment, I do believe that there would be real intellectual benefits to our students. I believe it, but, as Linda pointed out, I don't know it for certain. The anecdotal evidence is provocative--it seems very sensible--but neither report suggests that there is concrete data to support the notion that either of the credit models enhances student learning.

    And that's why the implementation details ARE important. If there are measurable benefits to a 4-credit model, surely they are dependent on effective implementation. If the new model would require additional resources, we should not only understand that, we should have a clear commitment from the Administration to provide those resources. Since there IS data suggesting that class sizes impact the learning experience (at least in my discipline), we should understand how said class sizes would be affected lest the measurable impact of larger classes counteracts the perceived benefit of fewer classes.

    Again, I don't necessarily oppose a 4-credit system. But I still need to be convinced to support it.

  12. I think Scott's points (above) are right on. In particular, I too would like to see some data showing that the 4 CR _is_ better than the 3 CR system in terms of _student learning_. If there is firm evidence that the 4 CR system leads to enhanced student learning than I would be all for it. It seems to me like there might be some data coming out of Keene State in the next couple of years that would help to clarify. Why seek a change now when there apparently are no clear data available? A few other questions/issues:

    One of the main points of the 4 CR Task Force seems to be attempting to make is that students need relief from their excessive loads. We have solid PSU data that seems to _refute_ this point. The NSSE survey reports that our students only study 10-12 hours/week outside of class. This suggests to me that they are not overworked academically. In fact, I would like to see more discussion on this point to determine how, as a faculty, we might be able to at least double or triple that amount of outside-of-class work for our students. If that happened, do _any_ of us doubt that student learning (and success, and retention and time to degree) would improve? I would like to propose that we explore this further.

    Another issue that I do not understand is the linkage of a move to a 4 CR curriculum with the faculty “relief from excessive workload” issue. (On this point I do agree that faculty workload has changed significantly over the past several years. For example, it seems to me that expectations of new hires have been “ramped up”; not only do we expect exemplary teaching but we also _expect_ research and possibly service. But, in my opinion, this is a workload issue, and should not be a curricular issue). My understanding of the Four CR Model proposal is that, in order to change a current 3 CR course into a 4 CR course that the workload for that course would be expected to increase commensurately (that would mean a 33% increase in workload/course). If a typical professor teaching four 3 CR courses now goes to three 4CR courses yet increases workload of the three courses by 33%, s/he is exactly back to where s/he started in terms of workload. Where is the reduced workload benefit that will lead to “additional time for service and research”?

    I especially found it interesting in the “Pro Four CR Model” Report that Keene stipulates (through collective bargaining) that the maximum number of preparations/semester is TWO (page 11 footnote). If we were also able to effect this “prep limitation” change here at PSU, I’d bet that a significant proportion of PSU professors would experience a significant workload reduction and that _would_ lead to more time for service or research. I would also like to propose that we explore this further.

    I too do not necessarily oppose the 4 CR model out of hand but I do not see clear advantages in terms of student learning. When this is weighed against the huge amount of time that would be necessary to change over our a) GenEd, b) Majors, c) class schedules, and to effect other implementation issues, my question is “Why should we?”


    Chris Chabot

  13. I’d like to respond to the class size issue in Phil’s and John’s message. Let’s Start with the section from the majority report. Here are some snippets from the report with my comments in italics

    In a previous review of the three- vs. four-credit models, PSU’s Ed Wixom developed the following paradigm:

    Ø MYTH: Changing to a 4-Credit System (4CR) means that class size would need to increase.

    Ø FACT: Changing to a 4CR would not increase class size.

    3CR/Current System:
    Professor Art Wood’s Schedule:
    Number of Students per Class Total Credits per Class
    25 75
    25 75
    25 75
    25 75
    100 Total Students 300 Total Credits Taught
    Remember, 100 students need 1500 credits per semester. 1500 credits/75 credits per class=20 classes per semester. That’s 5 full-time faculty members teaching four classes each.

    Professor Art Wood’s Schedule:
    Number of Students per Class Total Credits per Class
    25 100
    25 100
    25 100
    75 Total Students 300 Total Credits Taught

    Remember, 100 students need 1500 credits per semester. 1500 credits/100 credits per class=15 classes per semester. That’s 5 full-time faculty members teaching three classes each. Thus, the SAME NUMBER of students are served (they receive the same number of credits) under the 4CR as the 3CR.

    Notice, however, that 25 fewer students are able to take Professor Wood’s class. What if those 25 students need his class?. Some classes that are REQUIRED, will have to get more faculty dedicated to them OR have the caps increased.

    Example 1, Effect on a Required Course: A course like Composition or First-year seminar. Roughly, 1000 students per year.

    In a 3 credit model they would generate 3 x 1000 = 3,000 credits taught. If we have caps of 25 students per class, we need 40 sections, and 10 FTE of faculty.
    Assuming the course becomes 4 credits, they would generate 4 x 1000 = 4,000 credits taught. If we don’t increase the caps, we still need 40 sections and we need 13 1/3 FTE faculty to teach this course.

    Where will those other 3 1/3 faculty come from? Well, majors and the Gen Ed will HAVE to reduce the number of courses to free up FTEs OR we get more faculty.

    If we increase the cap to 32 students we need 32 sections and get back to about 10 2/3 FTE. Now there are other questions: Is 32 students pedagogically correct? Can we find classroom space for 32 sections with this many students?

    On a university scale, the class size was investigated further by the task force:

    Example C: 4000 Students
    3 Credits 4 Credits
    5 Classes Each 4 Classes Each
    20,000 Seats Needed 16,000 Seats Needed
    Each Faculty = 80 Seats Each Faculty = 60 Seats
    Need: 250 Faculty Need: 266 Faculty + 2 Adjuncts

    However, raising the cap by a very small number (i.e., 2), makes a significant difference. If we compare our current model at 20 students per semester at three credit per course with 22 students per semester at four credits per course, we find the following:

    Example D: 4000 Students
    3 Credits 4 Credits
    5 Classes Each 4 Classes Each
    20,000 Seats 16,000 Seats
    Each Faculty: 80 Seats Each Faculty: 66 Seats
    Need: 250 Faculty Need: 242 Faculty + 1 Adjunct + 6 extra seats

    Moving from 80 students per semester to 66 reveals a significant impact in the number of students taught, thus affecting faculty workload. Not all PSU classes average 20 students per course (This is very true); some are much higher and some are lower, thus allowing for an evening out of enrollment numbers.

    I don’t think the higher and lower will even out. This analysis is WAY to simple. Average is the wrong statistic to use here because class size is not normally (evenly) distributed. The distribution is highly skewed. The average class size is weighted toward the few courses taken by lots of students (e.g. Gen Eds) with more than 20 students. The many courses taken by few students (e.g. upper level majors courses) don’t affect the average as much. In order to pull the average up by 1 or 2 students per class, this realistically means that the few large sections will have to increase proportionally more because the total number of majors won’t change. Either that OR fewer upper level majors courses can be offered.

    Lets try an example: Professor Wood currently teaches two gen ed sections with 30 students each and two majors courses with 10 students each. This is 80 total students and an average class size of 20 students. In the 4 credit model he will teach only three classes. If he still teaches two majors courses with 10 students each, then to increase his average class size to 22 he needs to teach a total of 66 students so he’ll need to have 46 students in his one gen ed section.

    OK let’s try it the other way. Let’s assume he can teach just one majors course with 20 students, then his two gen ed sections could have only 23 students each. Notice that THREE things have to happen: 1) one less majors course has to be taught; 2) the number of students in the majors course has doubled; and 3) Now someone else has to pick up another gen ed section with 22 students

    Obviously this example is also over simplified, because the curriculum is very complex and we don’t REALLY know how this will play out. HOWEVER, I think the essence of the issue is demonstrated.

    It is possible that class sizes will not have to increase at all. There are some courses, like Composition, which most likely will require more sections, thus more faculty.

    Where will those faculty come from? We already have trouble getting faculty to teach freshman seminar. Above it has been stated that 4 credits will improve faculty recruiting…do you think having faculty teach more gen ed/composition/first year seminar is a recruiting tool?

    For me there are MANY unanswered questions regarding class size and while the devil is in the details, I think we do need to know something about them in order to make a good decision.

  14. Hi everyone,

    I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of the different threads that are being successfully debated here on the blog. But I think for organization's sake (and for the sake of my sanity!) I will break things down into focused entries over a period of time, so that I don't have to tackle it all at once. Also, this makes it easier for me to contradict myself (ha ha).

    I was laying in bed thinking last night about the caps issue. I have slogged through the math examples, and tend to lean towards the idea that if we keep the credits toward graduation where they are now, we probably wouldn't have to raise caps on our classes in any significant way. And believe me, I know that a small raise could be significant. But I do think the raise would probably be limited to required courses that had to be taken by a large group of students at one time, and that the raise would be limited to 1-2 students only in these affected classes. Now folks in my department can tell you that I am one of the most caps-protective person we've got over in English. I wrote our current caps policy, and was responsible for lowering caps on a number of our literature and Gen Ed courses. But I am not overly concerned about raising caps by 1-2 students and here's why.

    I went to the doctor's the other day. The cap was one. One doctor, one me. The appointment was horrible because the doctor was behind and had many other patients waiting, so it was all rushed. I ended up very dissatisfied. Caps matter in so many crucial ways. But it's not the only math there is. The fact that an increase in caps by 1-2 in some of our courses is also accompanied by a guaranteed reduction by nearly 25% in the number of students a FT faculty member teaches in a semester mitigates that cap increase for me. While we need to protect caps in classes where caps make all the difference in the world (20 computers in a room means a cap of 20, of course, and that's just one example of many), I personally would rather add 2 or 4 students across a couple of sections in order to lose what for me would be 25 other student spaces. In terms of the doctor's appointment analogy, it certainly matters how many other patients are in the room, but it also really, really matters how many patients that doc has to see that day. This is not just an analysis from a faculty member's point of view. By teaching dramatically fewer overall students, I can increase the amount of time spent out of class with each student; and most significantly, I can increase the amount of grading I take on and the time I spend giving feedback on each assignment. This final piece is enormous for me in my field, with the kind of work I require for my classes.

    I don't want to increase caps. I believe that in most classes, we wouldn't have to. I think an implementation team would have to work out the exact figures for courses like Comp, and then the faculty and administration will have to weigh the options (tiny raise in caps, more faculty positions, reconfigure curriculum requirements). The fact that no school that PSU studied that made the 3- to 4-credit transition had to raise caps should calm our fears that massive increases are not on the horizon. The fact that massive benefits are to be had by students and faculty by decreasing the total numbers of students we teach each semester should make us game to consider-- for the particular courses it might be needed for-- a 1-2 student increase in caps when it's both needed and not contraindicated by pedagogical concerns.

    Most adjuncts I have spoken to, for obvious financial reasons in particular, seem to support the 4-credit switch, but any raise in caps for them is more significant in some ways than it is for FT faculty, since they won't receive the benefit of the reduced total load, since most adjuncts don't teach 4 classes now. But I can't tell you how strongly I believe that these issues can be worked out by an implementation team. I believe the Majority Report does a good job helping us see that the caps issue is not one that should prevent us from moving forward.

    And again, I think we need to keep both sides of the math issue in mind: caps AND total numbers of students taught.

    Cheers to all, and thanks to everyone for taking this issue so seriously and for being so collegial in our disagreements. There's been no other issue since I have arrived here at PSU (no, not even merit pay!) that has been so important to me, and which I think could potentially make my work here so much more rewarding and less frustrating. So I really appreciate the careful attention people are paying to the matter. Those who are participating in the conversation really do all have a common goal: to preserve and improve the quality of the intellectual life for students and faculty at PSU. Anyway, enough shlock, eh? Enjoy the rest of your breaks!

  15. Ok, so I wanted to tackle one other blog issue: the "proof" that "student learning" will be improved in a 4-credit system. I might start by asking, how do we prove student learning in general? There is an assessment crisis going on in higher ed, and it's only recently that most schools-- our own included-- have spent concerted energy and resources on assessing student learning. So one of the problems we're up against is that most schools do a poor job of academic assessment in general: before, during, and after a 4-credit switch. And we probably shouldn't throw too many stones at them. What evidence do we have that our current 3-credit curriculum maximizes student learning? Clearly we wouldn't want to argue that the burden doesn't exist for 3-credit proponents to prove that their model is effective. What we've got to work with are some pretty limited assessments on both sides.

    But that's not to say there isn't some trustworthy evidence that the switch will have benefits for student learning. And I don't think I would call this evidence anecdotal, as much as "qualitiative." For example, after the KSC English Department initiated the switch to 4 credits, they surveyed their majors and their faculty. Students and English faculty were divided about the switch before they made it. But the initial assessment report they generated after the switch (which was first circulated to faculty here last year on the CMWG website) was overwhelmingly positive; people who had both opposed and supported the switch were now convinced that it did good things for intellectual life of the school. Here are some excerpts:

    From Sara Edwards (student):
    When I first heard about the change, I was furious. I did not understand what was wrong with the old system and was reluctant to deal with the hassles that came with change, especially in lieu of fact that the rest of the college was still using a three-credit system. I found many things about the new system upsetting; having to be in night courses until past 10:00pm, having to miss out on alternative three-credit courses because of scheduling difficulties, and losing the campus-wide free block on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-1:30 were all problems for me.

    But, what I soon realized, was that the benefits of changing far outweighed the negative aspects. After the switch, I found that I was more organized because I had fewer blocks of course time and fewer courses to keep track of. I was able to schedule longer hours at work in between classes and felt as though my courses had more meaning to them. Instead of simply grazing the surface of a topic, we were able to engage deeper in the material – something I found most helpful during seminar and senior-level courses. In addition, I felt like I was able to get to know professors more and form relationships that I might not have been able to form had I more courses and less time in each.

    As a former member of the General Education Review Committee, I believe that I have a realistic understanding of the challenges of instating a four-credit course model at Keene State. I empathize with reluctance to change and know that for some of the college’s programs this is nearly impossible, but I strongly recommend that the college find a way to make this change. I know that faculty, students, and degree programs will benefit as a result.

    From Chris Small (student):
    There are two primary arenas in which English courses have been improved by the transition to four credit classes: each individual class period, and the semester in its entirety. The improvements in each area help demonstrate the improvements in the other.
    Each class—meaning each individual time a class meets—has been drastically improved by the changes to meeting time. I don’t know if the three-times-a-week fifty-minute classes have been eliminated in their entirety, but they have certainly declined in prominence. The fifty-minute time slots were a terrible way to structure a college class: There was simply not enough time in any given period to cover material thoroughly. Too much time was eaten up dealing with the daily issues of organizing the class, and not enough time was dedicated to the class itself.
    The hour-and-twenty-minute classes have been improved by the extended time in much the same way. About ten minutes at the beginning of any class are given to necessary procedural issues: attendance, announcements, assigning the work for the next class, orientating the room in the direction of the topics for the day, and other purely organizational matters.
    Having an hour and forty minute class means that a full hour and a half can be dedicated to the academic material that should be the center of attention, not encumbered by procedural or organizational issues. By extension: in an hour and twenty minute class, only an hour and ten minutes can be dedicated to the class material, and in a fifty minute class, only about forty minutes are dedicated to academic material.
    I feel that the more effective use of daily class time can be seen mirrored in a more effective use of time in the organization of the entire semester.
    Both inside and outside of class, every student spends a great deal of time dealing with procedural matters. Time and effort must be spent in commuting, controlling a schedule, learning about a professor’s teaching style and expectations, and measuring the way time must be balanced between classes.
    These procedural issues have a finite amount of time and effort that must be put into them for each class. When we move from five three-credit classes to four, more rigorous, four-credit classes, the time spent on organizing for the fifth class is eliminated. The four remaining classes do not need more procedural time—they have already spent the finite amount of time needed. The one-credit worth of time and effort which is added to these classes is time and effort which is more valuable when spent there. The effort which was once spent on procedural issues is reapporopriated as time spent in a deeper and more valuable conversation with the academic material. Each class expands in quality exponentially: they are first benefited by the extra time and higher expectations, and second by the area in which that time and effort is spent.

    From Ethan Ash (student):
    Four and a half years ago when I entered Keene State College I was an intimidated yet eager student. Having no knowledge of what it was I sought after in attending college I was reassured by the idea that new classes and class discussions would lead me in the right direction. Two years later, when the time came to declare my major I was no more confident in what I wanted then when I had arrived. This was a troubling prospect. I had clung to, and skated through the general education requirements finding that college classes were no more intriguing to me than the high school lectures I had attended a few years prior. The structure was the same. The expectations were the same. An hour and twenty minute class breezed by leaving me with fleeting glimpses of inspirational topics for exploration that were never allowed to settle in my mind. Finding no interest in these courses I got by the same way I had in high school—I memorized.
    The problem with memorization is that any topic of memorization holds little significance beyond its purpose, which is to apply the information to the correct blank line, or empty circle, depending on the method of exam, and then quickly left behind as though what you had just regurgitated was no more than an unsettling lunch.
    Forced to choose a major I decided on the topic I had been most successful in, economics. With the upper-level classes brought more intense focus on the subject matter and I soon found myself struggling to maintain the grades that had been coming so easily through my practice of memorization. I was struggling to balance and envelop the difficult theories and ideas that accompany such intensive classes that are found in the upper level. I was then faced with a difficult decision: should I continue to attend the five class structure that is considered the norm, and will ultimately allow me to graduate on time; or should I drop a class, focus more extensively on four classes and hopefully maintain my acceptable grade point average. I chose the four class structure and never looked back. Now, while I was falling farther and farther behind on my anticipated date of graduation I was achieving astonishing grades. My first semester within the four class structure I made the dean’s list with a 3.6 gpa. I was finding that such topics as Marxist economics, and even the U.S History of Economic ideas, which had previously intimidated me, were now intriguing me and obtaining my absolute attention. I now found that that I had sufficient time to focus on each class rather than hurrying to complete the requirements of all five classes. I can only explain this through my decision to take four classes rather than five.
    While on paper one less class may not seem to add all that much to a student’s workload, I can assure you it does. And even though economics was not an area heavily valued to me or my interests I was still finding myself more motivated in my studies and actually obtaining and exercising some of those theories I was learning. I attended three semesters as an economics major, maintaining my four class, twelve credit, strategy and never saw myself descend below a 3.2 gpa.
    After a semester sabbatical, which I chose to take in order to regroup my individual choices, and discover what it was I wanted to gain from school, and life, I came back as an English major and was introduced to a four credit system that extended each class to an hour and forty minutes and encompassed sixteen credits.
    Since making this decision I have flourished. Not only have I regained an overwhelming appreciation for my experience here at Keene State, but I have found my calling in life, writing.
    Now, class is more than a means to an end. Each class that I attend, whether or not it completely interests me, I am finding myself unavoidably enveloped in its content. The extra twenty minutes for each class allows extensive attention and focus towards class interaction. Not only does a student obtain the benefits of lecture, but he/she is also allowed sufficient time to interact with each other. This is what an education should be. Professors and students should not have to feel as though they are rushing to regurgitate information for the sake of meeting criteria and expectation. An extra twenty minutes of class time opens up the possibility of interaction as well as focus. While the shorter classes seemed to always leave discussions hanging or subjects untouched the longer classes have seemed to open up the possibility for so much more. And more is what is needed. More focus on discussion; more elaboration of topics; more room to relax and reflect rather than rush and retain. I feel that the longer class has made all of these elements possible, and I feel that all of these elements are crucial to a student’s success.
    So, while our fast-paced society becomes more fast-paced; while colleges and universities swallow class after class of susceptible students; and while our educational focus becomes farther removed from a genuinely beneficial experience, and closer to the machination of mankind; we here at Keene State have the possibility to make a difference. By retaining the four credit system I am positive our students and faculty alike will benefit profoundly. Isn’t the purpose of education to benefit its subjects? Shouldn’t we be exploring every possibility of improvement within our system? I may be only one student, but I am not the only one with these sentiments.

    And here are some faculty comments from the initial English assessment:

    In my Romanticism class, our discussion of William Wordsworth's Intimations Ode lasted for the full 100 minutes. As we discussed the final words of this poem, I looked up startled to see that the full time had already elapsed. All 28 students participated attentively, sustaining their attention to this rich and demanding poem. Any arguments built on the assumption that Keene State College students cannot concentrate for 100 minutes are based on a faulty and condescending premise. In my Literary Analysis class we used a computer and projector to discuss and demonstrate MLA style, and students had an opportunity to ask specific questions that we would not have had time for in an 80-minute class. In my third class, a seminar on Literary Theory, the final twenty minutes have been the most rewarding in every session so far. It takes a substantial amount to time to bring an individual class session around to someone asking a question like "so what is ideology?" The time goes quickly, the learning is more substantial. I will remain attentive to possible drawbacks to this new design of our program, but they have not revealed themselves to me yet. (William Stroup)

    I enthusiastically welcome our transition to the four-credit system. Both in my European literature course and in the nineteenth-century Russian survey, I am now able to teach texts that have taken the place of the previously missing links: Voltaire's Candide and Ionesco's Rhinoceros in the two-hundred level course, and Goncharov's Oblomov in Outsiders, Supermen and Ordinary People. These additions will strengthen the coherence of both courses. I also have more time for talking about essay writing. Besides a thesis workshop that I've always had in my two-hundred level classes, we will now have time for two more: one on incorporating textual support, and the other on writing effective introductions and conclusions. I do not feel the pressure of the additional twenty minutes, nor do I find student performance to be negatively affected by this change. (Anna Kaladiouk)

    I love it! While it’s too soon to understand all the implications, so far the benefits include: more student reading and writing; more time for conferences; expanded assignments; more in-class time for writing and revising; more in-class time for peer reading and responding; more time for class discussions; more time for small group work. Overall, the benefits to the students are a more challenging schedule with more opportunities for diverse and complex assignments. Tomorrow the students will bring their second copy of their third major assignment to individual conferences. This seems to me to be about one paper ahead of previous semesters. I haven’t decided if the expanded time will be used for an additional paper or two, or if it will be used to focus more on revision and related reading; in either case, it’s a win-win for learning and skill-building. Bravo! (Ali Lichtenstein)

    I have been teaching ENG 101 this semester on the four-credit model. It is working very well for several reasons: 1) Students are accustomed to 90-minute periods and so the 100-minute periods do not seem long to them. In fact, the 10-minute increase seems to them like just another part of their increased college workload. The "attention span" issue is a faculty problem and probably a pedagogical problem, not a student problem; 2) The best part about the 100-minute periods is how much more can be accomplished in that time and how students relax into the period and settle into the work because they do not see me clock watching or acting as if I’m rushed. And I do a lot less clock watching. I can take the extra five minutes I always felt I needed for certain activities, let discussions go on a little longer and draw to a more natural conclusion, take more time with in-class writing, add another reading to their homework, or take the time to read an essay in class and discuss it in detail. These are wonderful benefits that enrich their education; 3) I have more time for one-on-one work with the really talented writers who need to be challenged and with the less skilled writers who need sentence by sentence guidance; 4) I have more time for the introduction to college material that I like to include in my class—having a tutor from the Writing Center visit, talking to them about course selection, asking about how their classes are going, etc.; 5) I have 20 minutes between classes. This is something I am expecting to lose when the campus moves to 4-credits, and it will be a very serious loss. Because many people are so terrified by change, I am expecting that those who design the new time blocks will do everything they can to make them look as much like the old time blocks as possible, including having 10 minutes between classes. We should all be seeing this as an opportunity to be creative, to think in new ways, and to design a schedule that is best for the students. That extra time to talk to them after class is invaluable. (Jan Youga)

    Creative writing courses have greatly benefited from the additional classroom hours provided by the four-credit system. I am able to assign more in-class writing, devote more time to group critiquing, and more thoroughly discuss the required readings. For the first time, I am able to require all students to read their short stories aloud. In ENG 302 Poetry Workshop we are able to spend far more time on individual poems and still have the opportunity to discuss the readings. I look forward to the new feature of individual presentations on contemporary poets selected by the students. Jeff Friedman also has responded enthusiastically to the additional time in ENG 204, and like me has been spending more time on in-class writing, which is invaluable to students since so many of them have difficulty finding or creating quiet times to write. So far the change to four-credit four-hour courses in writing has been academically successful, and I see no sign that students are being unduly fatigued by the additional time spent in class. (William Doreski)

    I enjoy the four-credit format. The longer classes provide opportunities—opportunities to vary teaching methods, to discuss topics in depth, and to provide individual attention. I should, however, mention that I am used to teaching the ninety-minute class, a format I used for thirty years in secondary teaching. (Richard LeDuc)

    In both my 200-level American Short Fiction and my 101 sections, the additional time makes it possible for me to add group work such as peer editing, discussion or free writing to each class. While I still lecture about the same amount as in the hour and twenty-minute classes, I now have time to vary activities during each class. (Mimi Morton)

    In both my 4-cr. lit classes, I have added more reading. In one of them, I have gone from two required papers to three. In both, I have had more time for small-group discussions, without feeling “rushed” to cover what I feel I need to say. I am also able to spend more time discussing assigned papers (how to, etc.). (Michael Haines)

    4-credit courses have provided me and the class with more time to explore topics/issues/texts in depth and to work on writing. Today, for instance, I had a writing workshop in my 200-level course on "Reading Popular Culture"—something I have not previously had the time to incorporate in 3-credit classes. I expect to have another writing workshop in my 200-level "Introduction to American Studies:The Thirties" course in the next week or so, before the first essay is due in that class. (Richard Lebeaux)

    All the students I asked today, say, they like it. The 200 level (general education) course is going better than it ever did before—the non-English majors are in the majority, and they are interested, asking questions in class, generally behaving like learners instead of studenting along just to survive. (Robin Dizard)

    I was worried. I’ve read that average attention span is now down to 8 minutes from 12 when I quit teaching in 1975. In the past the 1st class has always gone poorly because there is too much to cover in 50 minutes. This year I was able to relax and cover my syllabus essay without pushing the slow readers, then have students respond in small groups to my peer review sheet about the essay, then a break, then large group response, then pre-view the 1st assignment. A side bonus is that the next class doesn’t start for 20 minutes, so I can ask a struggling student in the last moment of class to see me and I can deal with individuals’ questions calmly instead of out in the hall. I stumbled into a great system—I asked Peg Barrett if I could have two library sessions. She readily agreed. Usually a library session ends too quickly and in a flurry of passing back and collecting student writing. Now the session ends and we meet back in the classroom to clarify what has just happened and explain how it can be used. Without a day in between the experience and the further explanation, students see the connection better. (Nick Noyes)

    Here's me talking again:

    So a lot of this is English-specific, and that's why, even in light of the Majority Report and all of its good info, I still like talking to folks in the KSC English department about their switch. Some of this revolves around seat-time, and might not be as relevant to us, but there are lots of indications that improvement happened for many reasons. And again, these folks were not all in favor of making the switch, but all have agreed now that it has been beneficial to student learning. I watched the DVDs that the CMTF supplied at the library about the KSC, St. Joe's, and UMF switches. It was clear that the CMTF really wanted them to talk about drawbacks to the switch, but even participants who had initially opposed the switch were very positive about the effects on student learning.

    I wish we had more national studies that looked at whether its more beneficial to students to study in smaller or larger chunks. In college, I studied (as one of my 4 courses per semester) with Ted Sizer, one of the founders of the Coalition of Essential Schools. He is a premiere researcher on student learning at the high school level. He taught me a lot about what I currently believe about the small vs. large chunk issue. Here are the first four principals of the CES:

    1. The school should focus on helping adolescents learn to use their minds well. The schools should not attempt to be "comprehensive."

    2. The school's goals shall be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge…. "Less IsMore" should dominate.

    3. The school's goals should apply to all students.
    Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent … no teacher (should) have direct responsibility for more than 80 students …

    Though we would never want to adopt these 3 principals for our college (I understand there are different goals at high school and college levels), Sizer's book, "The Shopping Mall High School," is often in my mind as I prep my classes here like a line cook at McDonald's. I am concerned about the speed with which I am required to work and the check-list approach that I sometimes feel is encouraged here in place of a more deliberate, considerate, and scholarly interface with students. I don't want to suggest that I am doing a bad job in my teaching, but I do often lament that the structure of my teaching load seems to work against the kind of success I think I am capable of achieving with students.

    When I hear directly from colleagues at other schools that their transitions have had benefits for students and faculty, I take that qualitative data seriously. I am influenced by my own undergraduate work in education and my own experience taking a rigorous academic program that encouraged students to take only 4 classes at a time. I categorically reject the idea that our students would study LESS with fewer classes. Students at Brown didn't study less with 4 classes. They studied more. And after teaching at Brown, Tufts, and PSU, I don't think this is because Brown and Tufts students were smarter (gosh, I hate that argument, don't you?). It's because the tenor that the institution set was that intellectual pursuits are not bite-sized nuggets that you can add to your cart like memorizable packaged meat products. They take collaboration with peers and professors, connections across fields, feedback from experts and the public; in short, they take time.

    In sum, when we look for "evidence," let's not omit qualitative assessments, especially the filmed meetings with local institutions that recently made the transitions. And let's not demand a standard of proof from 4-credit proponents that 3-credit proponents could not offer in favor of a more parcelled-up curriculum.

  16. Linda touched on some very important points about curriculum and work load related to courses in majors that have strict content guidelines. I’d like to explore these issues a bit. And I’d like to use an example that I am familiar with:

    Example: Approximately 64 students per year need to take Intro to X-Science I (3 credit lecture, 3 50-minute classes, 3 teaching credits/contact hours) and Intro to X-Science I lab (1 teaching credit for 3 hours contact/seat time).

    Current Model:
    (64 students x 3 cr lecture) + (64 students x 1 cr lab) = 256 total credits taught. Currently there are 4 sections with 16 students each because the lab classroom is only able to accommodate 16 students safely. We currently need 1 1/3 FTE to teach these 4 sections. Note: 1 1/3 faculty are teaching 24 contact hours or approximately 18 contact hours per FTE!

    In the 4 credit model, let’s assume the lecture moves to 4 credits. After all with increased class time and block scheduling the lecture will still meet the same amount of time as any other course. Then we’ll have 320 credits taught. We still have 64 students and still need four sections due to lab constraints so we’ll need 1 2/3 FTE. Note this 1 2/3 faculty will now be teaching 28 contact hours which is still 16.8 contact hours per FTE!

    One way to get around the need for devoting more faculty to this course in the 4 credit curriculum would be to treat the course simply as a 4 credit course already (think of them as combined). If the lecture meets for the “standard” block, you would have 1 1/3 faculty teaching 28 contact hours or 21 contact hrs per FTE! Other faculty on campus will be teaching 12 contact hours per FTE (if they teach 200 minutes per class) or only 10.5 contact hours per FTE (180 minutes per class model). Notice also that a student in this course has 3 extra hours of seat time per week due to the lab and the concomitant increase in work (weekly lab prep, lab reports etc…) without any extra “credit” for that work. Think about recruiting and retaining faculty and or students for this type of load. Of course one could figure out a way to still only teach 150 minutes of lecture each week (1 and ½ class periods?), but that puts us back to the beginning: 18 contact hours per FTE and student seat time at 6 “hours” per week for the same “credit” as another class which may only meet 3.5 to 4 hours per week.

    By the way, has anyone told the students that in the four credit model they should actually be doing more work each semester taking 16 credit hours instead of 15?

    Now let’s examine the effect of four credits on the curriculum with Intro to Science X:

    Intro to Science X is really a two semester (I and II) sequence. You can’t put two semesters (6 cr) of lecture into one 4 credit semester. Nor can you skip some of the material because as Linda says you can’t cut out the content especially when the courses are pre-requisites for upper level courses. Now compound this issue by having other courses with labs and perhaps some three credit courses tossed in at various points in the degree course sequence. How do we combine them in a logical way when we can’t simply change the content? Frankly, it is not a problem that I want to be forced to deal with.

    This brings me to my last point/question and it relates to John Krueckeberg’s Q5 “Involved Parties”. John stated that he was relieved to see that all departments were represented in the majority report. I don’t believe that is true. The majority report listed the members of the task force (which included *most* departments) and the reports did not indicate which members where in the majority and which were in the minority. I do know that the (former) CEAPS department planning committee looked briefly into the impact the 4 credit curriculum would have on our degree programs. That committee came to the conclusion that a 4 credit curriculum would have a negative impact on our curricula (see the Intro to Science X example above).

    Has the task force examined the way and extent to which departments/degree curricula will be affected? John called for a report from each department about the potential effect on class size and caps, but I would extend that to include the impact on curriculum. I believe that when the Gen Ed was revised, Robert Miller found out after the fact that about half of the degree programs on campus didn’t “mesh” with the new Gen Ed. He can probably tell you about what a nightmare that was to deal with and that it ultimately introduced more curriculum complexity (see Waivers) rather than less. What if half of the major curricula on campus don’t “mesh” well with a 4 credit curriculum? Should majors be forced to make compromises to their curriculum by the university credit model?

    Students come to college to earn a degree in a major field, become generally educated, and become lifelong learners. The university requirements and course structure should be flexible enough accommodate all of these things. I’m afraid that for many (some?) degree programs a move to a four credit curriculum will be less flexible and cause unwanted compromises to degree programs.

    In the majority report they do mention that massive curriculum changes will have to happen, they tend to argue that the benefits will outweigh the amount of work and compromises necessary to make it happen. I’m not convinced of the benefits. I’d hate to think that student’s major fields of study will have to be compromised just to fit a certain credit model.

  17. Several folks, including John Krueckeberg in his seminal message, have raised the question of why the minority motion includes the resolution that the faculty reconsider this matter no sooner than 7 years from now. As Dennis correctly observed, this is not intended to stifle debate or progress. Rather it is intended to motivate the faculty and the Provost to get on with the business of solving some of the problems acknowledged by both sides of this debate without feeling that everything must be put on hold pending resolution of the credit model issue.

    It was the Provost who suggested in a meeting with the task force, that any resolution in support of maintaining the current curriculum model should include a statement of this sort. She had just told us that her consideration of various solutions to the “faculty workload problem” was on hold pending resolution of the credit model question. She also had expressed reluctance to encourage departments to made badly needed curriculum simplification, since that would have to be redone if we change credit models. In reviewing the three other times the faculty have considered the four-credit questions, we had talked about the fact that the question had been raised again less than three years after the last time it was resolved, causing the Gen. Ed. Task Force , then in its third year of work, to suspend its activity until assured by Provost Barry the matter was settled for the time being. One of us—I’m pretty sure it was I—asked her how this time we might avoid this sort of institutional paralysis—the sudden putting on hold of really important matters—every time this question is raised. She said the only way would be for the faculty to include in whatever resolution it passed a statement of how many years the resolution would apply.

    As for the choice of seven years, I came up with that number when I was working on the first draft of the minority report, and no one in the group called it into question. I’m not wedded to seven as the perfect number. Five seemed like too few and ten seemed like too many, and I was able to generate the rationale we presented for seven. But I won’t necessarily be opposed to an amendment, as long as we do agree to a reasonably long period of time during which we are may work on the very serious problems we have at the moment--curriculum complexity, faculty workload, support for General Education are the first three on my list--without having the ready excuse of there being no point if everything will change with the credit model anyway.

    These problems we face are too important to keep postponing. Thus I am very much opposed to what I think I am detecting in some of the comments in this blog: the possibility the faculty would vote to create a task force to study implementation of a four-credit curriculum and postpone a decision on whether to actually do it pending that report. That would be a vote for another year of paralysis.

  18. Robin’s recent posting asked us to consider the comments made by Keene students and faculty as “qualitative research” rather than anecdotes. Forgive me my reluctance to do so, because if it walks like an anecdote and talks like an anecdote, well, it’s an anecdote. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that one is willing to consider such testimonials as ‘evidence’. If so, then let me report on a conversation I had with a Keene faculty member at a conference last October. I asked the faculty member, not a member of the English Department, how the transition to a four credit curriculum was working. Briefly, her response was very much the opposite of comments coming from the English Department. She reported a great deal of frustration in her department and among her majors. So, who do we believe and why? We can continue to trade anecdotes all we want, but I don’t consider that to be the sort of evidence that should be used to either support or reject a new curriculum model.

    As for the comment that people initially opposed to the move are now for it, well, that’s not really all that surprising in light of the voluminous and rigorous research on self-justification. A recent book by psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,” makes it obviously clear that once we’ve chosen a particular course of action, we’re far more likely to look for confirmatory evidence rather than admit that the chosen path may have been wrong.

    Having said that, I have a couple of more comments on some things written in the majority report. First, there’s a claim that moving to a four credit curriculum will “increase academic standards.” I have no idea what that statement is supposed to mean. Academic standards pertain to fairness and integrity within the classroom as well as the larger university community. Our “Fair Grading Policy” and our “Academic Integrity Policy” are examples of how we seek to implement and maintain “academic standards.” To suggest that this has anything to do with course credits is either a misunderstanding of the term or a failure to communicate effectively about the supposed benefits of moving to four credits.

    The majority report also makes mention, in bold highlight no less, of the fact that after Keene implemented the new four credit model, “retention and enrollment rates increased.” There is obviously here a willingness to draw a cause-effect relationship in spite of the fact that no such inference is warranted for a myriad of reasons.

    Given the above, I do not wish to summarily dismiss all of the potential benefits of moving to a four credit curriculum, but the likelihood that some may base this very important decision on testimonial evidence or on flawed data presented as conclusive causes me sufficient unease to the extent that I very much question the wisdom of the proposed change.

  19. I will not be able to attend either today's discussion of the credit model reports or May's vote (I am on sabbatical this semester). I will be sorry to miss both. If I were at today's meeting, I'd want to comment about implementation of a new model. I think the majority report underestimates what will be required for a change from 3 to 4 credits. I'm very concerned that their report does not include a proposed implementation plan.

    When the new Gen Ed requirements were introduced, the Education Department was one of the departments that completely redesigned both of its majors and all of its options. We began the process of conceptualizing the revisions to the degree programs in 2003 (perhaps even before). For the 2003-04 academic year, faculty members engaged in curriculum development and revision. This involved consulting input from students and faculty, reviewing state and national standards, looking at programs from other institutions. We also kept in mind the provisions of the new gen ed program, to make sure our degree programs could mesh with that. In 2004-05, we finalized our changes and submitted them to all the required levels of campus approval, in time to get them into the 2005-06 catalog.

    So before the program even was offered, we had spent two years of intensive work, including winterim and summer retreats, on curriculum development. The new degrees were introduced in 2005-06. Although we had carefully designed a phasing in/out process for new and old courses, we found we had to introduce many of the new courses earlier than planned, because of the large numbers of students transferring into our programs with only two years of coursework left to complete. So from 2005 until this spring, we have been offering both the "old" and the "new" programs in order to accommodate all of our 500 or so majors and their individual needs. This has required a great deal of planning, intensive faculty involvement, and a lot of extra work for everyone. Many of us have had four different preps each semester as we taught courses from both programs. I'm sure you can imagine the impact on advising as well. (I might add here that faculty advising loads in our department range from 25-70.)

    We think it has been worth it, because we are committed to our new programs. But it leaves me, personally, feeling very wary of taking on another major transformation. Changing from 3 to 4 credits will require the whole process of reconceptualizing degree programs and gen ed to happen all over again.

    For smaller departments, or programs without certification requirements, the change from 3 to 4 credits might not require as much work. But for the Education Department, I can only anticipate another five or more years of increased faculty workload to see such a transformation through. I would very much like to see an implementation plan that would convince me otherwise. I would not be able to vote in favor of a change without such a plan.

  20. I just tried posting this, but it got lost in transit. Let me try again. I helped to lead the curricular revisions in my department around the conversion to the new Gen Ed program. I remember doing this AFTER I voted in favor of the Gen Ed proposal. I never would have spent the countless hours I spent had I not been sure if the new program were going to run or not. I think we're in a similar spot here. There's definitely mountains of detailed work to be done, but who would practically undertake this without any word from the majority of faculty that the pedagogical goals at the core of the switch are a good idea? I could definitely get behind the idea that a faculty vote in favor of a 4 credit switch could be provisional, and would ultimately depend on the outcome of future implementation work and votes related to key implementation decisions. I can't imagine anyone would want this to go through regardless of the quality of the implementation plan. But when I think of the work I did for Gen Ed, I sure can't imagine tackling any kind of similar work on this without word from the faculty that the pedagogical underpinnings of the switch are something the majority of us agree on. I think the CMTF, the CMWG, and all of the previous committees on this issue have collectively articulated a clear position on this, but I definitely agree that the implementation needs to happen in a concerted, detailed, department-driven, deliberate way. Let's vote in favor of the goals and concepts here, and work out the implementation and vote again on that-- as one plan, or better yet, in chunks as it is developed. I think a detailed implementation plan before we know the general will of the faculty is impractical and could mean a lot of wheel-spinning for nothing...

  21. I appreciated hearing the conversation at yesterday's faculty meeting with regard to the 3- vs 4-credit model systems.

    I would suggest that the number of credits we assign to a course is rather arbitrary. Is Introduction to Psychology really different when it is offered for 3 credits instead of 4 credits?

    I went to a college that required 32-36 courses to graduate, but I have no idea whether they would have been worth 3 credits or 4 credits because credits were not assigned.

    NEASC generally recommends that undergraduate degre programs be comprised of roughly 1/3 course work in general education, 1/3 in the major and 1/3 in electives. It may be that pre-professional programs require a higher percentage of total course work.

    If that were applied to PSU's majors (if we were to move to a 4-credit model), I think that some departments would want to revise their curriculum to combine courses (e.g., move the content of 4 courses into the 3), while other departments would not need to do that. I don't know that a 3-credit science course with 1-credit lab would have to change or if it could remain 4 credits. Perhaps where the sciences could adjust the curriculum would be at the more specialized upper level courses. I hope that we use or could move to a competency- or outcome-based model in which we are clear what a student should know and do when they have a certain major and in terms of general education when they complete a degree at PSU.

    My preference for learning (and teaching) would be to focus on fewer courses/topics at one time. I went to the Colorado College which utilizes the block system that Duncan described. Each course there is 3 and 1/2 weeks long and you study one subject all day, everyday. Some classes required more meeting time than others, but "seat time" was not associated with any credit hours. For example, literature classes would usually meet from 9-12 every morning (5 days per week) with afternoons and evenings spent reading and writing. Bur the science classes I took involved class every morning and lab several afternoons a week and the other afternoons and evenings spent reading, writing lab reports etc.

    The fall term offered 4 blocks and the spring offered 5 blocks. As long as you completed 8 blocks a year you are on schedule to graduate.

    Dartmouth College has students take 3 courses per 10-week term and has 3 terms per year for a total of 9 courses per year. Again, there is an opportunity for students to focus on fewer courses at one time.

    I think there is an advantage for students to focus their attention and agree that the 4-credit model is worth considering.


  22. I wanted to add a few things in light of our faculty meeting:

    1) I am glad there are a number of people whose guts tell them that the 4-credit switch will be better for students and faculty. However, I did not just spend a year and a half of my life (especially the nights and weekends this year) figuring out my gut feeling on the issue! I spent a lot of time reading research about credit systems and curriculum, talking to colleagues from other institutions, learning about the history of the 3-credit system, and researching implementation issues such as class size, transfer credits, block schedules and space needs, accreditation concerns, costs of education, and pipeline issues. I spent hours and hours working out details on these things. It's true that our TF did not create an implementation plan that we would put into effect immediately after an affirmative vote, since the faculty and individual departments will need to weigh in on these decisions. But we definitely did evaluate the implementation issues and determine that each of them seemed very solveable. Please spend an hour on the 34-page Majority Report. Please spend a couple of days reading the research, assessments, reports and opinions contained in the many links at the end of that report. Please watch the DVD's on reserve at the library to hear what we heard at other schools. All of this adds up to more than a "gut" feeling. Perhaps not enough to convince eveyone, but definitely more than a gut feeling!

    2) For programs that have outside assessments, it is my opinion after looking at a variety of programs from 4-credit schools that answer to outside accreditors, that most accrediting agencies look at measurable learning outcomes at this point, rather than a checklist of exact courses taught. I now believe that outside assessment or accreditation is not an impediment to switching credit models. I would encourage folks to check out Jane Wellman's article "Accreditation and the Credit Hour" for an overview of the issue. You can read the article at This is obviously a huge issue, but again, a number of us on the TF have been interested in looking at this question quite closely. I don't mean to speak for individual programs, since I know there are real concerns that need to be addressed by experts from each department, but the majority of the TF feel from our research that pre-professional and accredited programs can convert (or remain in) a 4-credit system here at PSU without compromising in any way their accreditation.

    3) The final thing I wanted to say is that as much as we heard about implementation details at the faculty meeting, with the exception of a couple of brief comments, most folks did not refer to the major positive implications of the switch as described in the Majority Report. Just four of them are paraphrased here:

    -Most faculty will have a more reasonable teaching load, which benefits both students and (of course) faculty (most faculty would have about 25% fewer students and one one fewer course per semester, meaning more time spent on each student and each course); most faculty would move to a 3-3 load;

    -Expectations of students will rise because of increased focus and more time-on-task for individual courses (this is what student Gene Martin did speak about at the faculty meeting);

    - Common meeting times will be more easily created and maintained;

    - Potentials for collaborative learning will be enhanced by slightly longer class periods and the possibility of more in-depth out of class learning like service learning projects, outreach, and field research; Potentials for research, experiential learning and service learning will be enhanced.

    I already have a 4-credit curriculum in my program (we officially switched on Wednesday from a 3-credit program), but I think it's better for our students if they have a consistent 4-credit curriculum, and I think this change would be very good for intellectual life here at PSU. I have not seen many persuasive arguments in favor of how the 3-credit curriculum benefits students and faculty, so after looking at the evidence, I think we should do this. Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion--


  23. As we consider the 4- versus 3-credit issue, I ask that my colleagues reflect on the most recent modifications to the institution’s mission statement, revisions that occurred as a by-product of our change of name several years ago. Overnight, we were no longer Plymouth State COLLEGE, we had become a regional comprehensive university. With this name change, we inherited a revised—expanded—set of expectations. My colleagues who addressed the importance of teaching were right on the money. However, our students are no longer limited to a group of 18-22 year olds (as if that were ever the case), nor are they simply 20 to 30 people sitting in Plymouth classrooms. By accepting the designation “regional comprehensive university,” this institution committed itself to serve a new body of students, and some of them are selectmen, heads of chambers of commerce, motel operators, foresters…the list is endless. There is now a widely held belief that Plymouth State will contribute to the quality of life of residents of northern New England in ways that necessitate thinking beyond the traditional 4 x 4 teaching model. No one advocates that we undermine our traditional mission—we will always remain true to our responsibility to provide the best education possible along the banks of the Pemi.
    Throughout the high level of dialogue that has been taking place, I have been listening carefully—not only as a teaching professor, but as director of a campus research institute and as chair of the provost’s research advisory council. I respect the careful consideration that went into creating the Credit Model Task Force’s minority report. At the same time, I find myself troubled by the comments of my younger colleagues, Marcia Blaine and Becky Noel. These two outstanding women embody the concerns of a growing number of new faculty who are committed to quality teaching, but who recognize they will be better at their pedagogical pursuits if they can only find the time to do more research, present at more academic conferences, and publish more than they are already doing, faced with the constraints of our present system.
    At the March meeting of the Research Advisory Council, we discussed the 4- vs.3-credit model with the intention of taking a position. As the group on campus charged with finding ways to enhance opportunities to conduct research, applied research, service, and performance—in keeping with the campus’ recharged mission statement—the RAC unanimously adopted the following motion: “The RAC supports the 4-credit model under the assumption that a 3-3 teaching load will yield approximately 25 percent time for research, scholarship, and service.”
    I respect and support the efforts of those who wish to devote their (already) excellent careers to traditional forms of pedagogy, but believe the 4-credit model will allow this institution and its faculty to expand in new directions in a more timely fashion. Therefore, I encourage you to support the 4-credit model. Thank you.

    Mark Okrant
    Professor of Tourism Management

  24. The assumption of the RAC that adopting a 4-credit model will yield 25 percent time for research, scholarship and service concerns me greatly. Although the majority report suggests that time for research will be enhanced, it also says that both seat time and what we expect of the students will increase. It seems to me that if we are spending more time in the classroom per course and we are expecting more from our students academically (perhaps in terms of quantity of work--which means more for us to grade), it would be unreasonable to expect that a 25% decrease in course load would result in 25% more time to spend on other things such as research. Statements such as the one from the RAC make me worry that these expectations will exacerbate our workload problems. I think we need to be careful of assuming that adopting the 4-credit model will solve all kinds of problems that, in my opinion, it was not actually intended to solve.

  25. As a task force member who has spent much time researching and considering numerous prespectives on the 3-credit model and 4-credit model systems, I suggest that we are NOT saying that moving to a 4-credit model where the teaching load is 3-3 will require us to increase our research responsibilities 25%. The switch is not a reduction in workload but it would reshape how we work and what we do when we work. Pages 7 and 19 of the majority report address some of these questions regarding the workload issue and "enhanced" research opportunities. To assume that by moving to the 4-credit model and teaching a 3-3 load would automatically require a 25% increase in research is a slippery slope that misrepresents the purpose of changing to this model and it shifts our attention away from the important issues that focus on the quality of education and student experience.

  26. I have been asked to respond to a number of questions on various topics. I will post them under separate headings to keep topics from getting lost.

    Earlier this year I spoke to the credit model task force and stated that the workload issue is one of great importance and one I want to address The President and I are aware that workload, which includes teaching load, is of top concern to faculty. It is a top concern to us too and we are committed to addressing this issue in multiple ways. At the CMTF meeting, I stated that whether we vote to keep our current 3 credit curriculum or vote to move to a 4 credit curriculum, we needed to address the workload situation. I also said that it would be much more difficult to make real changes to workload if we stayed at 3 credits. I stated that either way, it is going to require MAJOR curriculum revision. Below you will see the impact on faculty needs if we stay with a 3 credit model and reduce everyone’s load to 9 credits (we’ll call it a 3/3/ load for simplicity). You can compare that to what happens if we switch to 4 credits and make your own decision on which model provides the greatest improvement on teaching workload.

    The phrase “reduction in workload” means different things to different people. For the purposes of this discussion I will use reduction in workload to mean a reduction from a 4/4 load to a 3/3 load. There are a number of ways to reduce teaching workload. Among them are:
    Teaching 3 classes instead of 4
    Teaching fewer total students
    Meeting fewer times per week in class
    Having 3 preps instead of 4
    Meeting the same amount of total in-class time (600 minutes per week) but spread over 3 courses instead of 4
    Meeting less total in-class time (450 minutes vs 600 for)
    (Note- These are generalities and averages and can’t be applied across campus in all situations as many of you have voiced)

    Below, you’ll find the impact on faculty workload – first showing our current situation and then under two models. I’ll leave it to you to decide what constitutes a reduction in workload. Model 1 is a 4 credit model, and Model 2 is a 3 credit model with 3/3 reduced faculty load

    Current 3 credit model:
    We currently have 241 fulltime equivalent (FTE) faculty -Calculated by taking all Tenure Track, Contract, skill application teachers etc. x 24 credits/yr and subtracting all release time. Add to this the FTE of adjunct faculty (every 24 credits of adjunct teaching = 1 FTE)
    4000 students
    Avg credit hrs/student/semester = 15
    Avg class size = 21
    Cr taught/faculty =12/semester
    Faculty need = 238 FTE faculty

    Effect on load
    Current situation
    Class size = 21
    Average faculty teaches 84 students
    Average faculty teaches 4 classes
    Spends 600 minutes of IN-Class time (150 minutes x 4 courses = 600 minutes)
    Has 3-4 preps
    Has 8-12 in-class meetings per week

    Workload model 1 - move to 4 credit model
    4000 students
    Avg credit hrs/student/semester = 16
    Avg class size = 21
    Cr taught/faculty =12/semester
    Faculty need = 254 FTE faculty
    Increasing avg. class size by 1.4 brings the FTE required back to 238

    Summary- Effect on load - Change to 4 credits
    Class size = 22.4 (addition of 1.4 students to avg. class size)
    Average faculty teaches 67.2 students (reduction of 16.8 students per semester)
    Average faculty teaches 3 classes
    Spends 600 minutes of IN-Class time (200 minutes x 3 courses = 600 minutes)
    Has 2-3 course preps
    Has 6-9 in class meetings per week

    Workload model 2- stay at 3 credit model, reducing faculty workload to 3/3 teaching load:
    4000 students
    Avg credit hrs/student/semester = 15
    Avg class size = 21
    Cr taught/faculty =9/semester
    Faculty need = 317 FTE faculty
    Increasing avg. class size by 7 brings the FTE required back to 238

    Summary- Effect on load - 3 credit model, reducing faculty load
    Class size = 28 (increase on avg. of 7 per class)
    Average faculty teaches 84 students (same as currently)
    Average faculty teaches 3 classes
    Spends 450-600 minutes of IN-Class time (150 minutes x 3 or 4 courses = 450-600 minutes)
    Has 2-4 course preps (2-3 once fully realized- until then, many will still teach 3/4 load)

    Summary of two models
    • Model 1 (4-credit) allows for a reduced teaching load by reducing the total number of students taught and the number of different class meetings per week
    • Model 2 (3 credit) allows for a reduced teaching load by reducing the number of contact hours spent in class and the number of different class meetings per week but requires an increase of avg. class size of at least 7*

    *this will only be true if we can accomplish raising average class size by 7 through curricular revision

    Other things that should be considered:

    Recruiting new faculty is increasingly more difficult due to the load issue. This year we lost 3 hires due to workload.

    In the 4 credit model
    -an increase in avg class size of 1.4 is manageable and we’ve been there in the recent past. Our avg class size has ranged from 21-23 in the last several years. We can do this.
    - changing to 4 credits will require significant curricular revision.
    - once the transition is complete (2-4 years??) everyone will have a reduced teaching load.

    In a 3 credit model with reduced teaching load
    - an increase in avg class size of 7 would be very difficult and I not sure we can do it. Many classes are constrained by the physical capacity of the room/lab, pedagogical needs, number of majors and other. This means that there would be many classes that would have to increase by many more than 7 to end up with an AVG increase of 7.
    - making an average class size increase of this magnitude will require significant curricular revision and perhaps elimination of low enrolled courses and programs.
    - moving faculty to a 3/3 load will take several years and will require us to transition slowly- perhaps some faculty will move to a 4/3 load and eventually to a 3/3 load if curricular change is made and class size increases significantly.

    Keep in mind that if you want to reduce teaching load, it will require major curricular revision whether we change to 4 credits or keep our current 3 credit model. In both models you will teach 3 courses. You’ve seen in these models that in the 3 credit model you will teach the same number of students that you do now but will have less class meeting time (3 classes instead of 4 means less TOTAL time in-class: 150 min x 3 courses = 450 minutes per week) In the 4 credit model you will teach an average of 16.8 fewer students but will have roughly the same amount of in-class time that you do know (200 minutes x 3 courses = 600 minutes. Thus the same amount of in-class time as now, but with fewer class meetings, fewer preps, and one less class to plan)

    Perhaps the biggest difference between the two models is the length of time it will take to make a real change in teaching workload. Reducing load while keeping a 3 credit curriculum will take many years and may not ever be fully achievable. It will require moving slowly, allowing some faculty to drop to a 3/4 load and perhaps eventually a 3/3 load. With a change to 4 credits, once the transition is complete, all faculty will move immediately to a 3/3 load.

    A number of you have asked me to state my position. I’ve not done that because I believe this is a faculty decision and there are many factors to consider. You will decide what you think is best for our students and what is the best model to address reductions in teaching load. As provost, I hope I can answer your questions and give you the information you need to make the best possible decision.

  27. Research Advisory Council statement

    The RAC was simply trying to support the notion that many faculty have been talking about the load being unbearable while trying to teach and do research and service. Since the RAC’s mission is research related, they thought a statement of support related to the research aspects of the workload issue was appropriate.

    To clarify: There is no intention on my part or anyone else as far as I know to increase the expectation of service and scholarship by 25%. When the RAC talked about a “25% reduction it was in the context of a 25% reduction in the number of courses a faculty member teaches” that is, simply from moving from a 4/4 load to a 3/3/ load. It’s true that there will not be a 25% decrease in ‘workload’ because there will be an increase in either seat time or in number of students taught. Please don’t read into Mark’s statement that research expectations will be increased. In my mind, the goal of decreasing to a 3 course load is for the purpose of alleviating the load that currently exists by faculty who are ALREADY trying to be successful at the three required components of faculty life: teaching service and scholarship.

  28. A few comments/responses....

    To Phil Lonergan's message with regard to accreditation issues and gut feelings:
    - I've read the entire 34 page TF majority report, I have not yet had a chance to watch the DVD's in the Library. I agree that the TF was thorough looking at the broad picture of 4 vs 3 credits and many of its implications. However, in the report there were no concrete examples of how curriculum were adjusted. Just qualitative/anecdotal/gut feeling comments about how well it turned out in the end.
    - While many accrediting bodies are moving toward learning outcomes based assesments (so far meteorology doesn't :-(), this isn't as really as helpful as it looks. The learning outcomes must still be arranged in a curriculum which are grouped together in courses. The real tough question is HOW to adjust the curriculum/courses in a four credit structure. Each department will have to ask: Is such a rearrangement possible and if so is it desirable? What then will be the implications for number of faculty, caps, courses offered, etc...These questions and details need to be worked out. Until then, we're left with "gut feelings".

    - Julie's comments about course size and the number of faculty:
    Julie's math (like Ed Wixon's) gives an OK overview and sheds a positive light on the 4 credit model. But it's just too simple. Average class size is the wrong statistic and university wide is too simplistic. The devil is in the details. The WHOLE curriculum will change in a 4 credit model which will change the demand for courses. As I tried to demonstrate in my earlier post required classes will have to have either more faculty or increased caps. After dealing with the required courses, each department will choose the faculty/caps for the rest of their courses. If you can't reduce your classes in the major by 25%, you will have to keep faculty dedicated toward those courses (more than now) leaving you with less faculty for gen eds or first year seminar (and the overall demand for these courses will not drop) which would imply bigger classes. If you are able to offer fewer majors classes the majors classes will probably be bigger than they are now, but the gen eds/first year seminars could stay about the same size. Figure this out for all the departments and then you'll finally know the impact of the change on class size.

    Comments on workload in the proposed 4 credit model:
    - Students: 4 classes instead of 5 but one more hour a week in class (16 cr v s15 cr), 33% more work in each class + higher academic expectations should equal a significant increase in outside work.

    - Faculty: Fewer preps, about the same amount of time in class, perhaps fewer students (see above), increased expectations for student work (more assignments to prepare and grade) in a course will probably balance the reduced amount of preps. Impact on clock time to do research and scholarship and service- none?

    Anyway, those are my $0.02

  29. What is the impact of being the only USNH institution with a 3 credit curriculum? Unknown.

    I will share these two concerns, however.

    1) Over the last 4 years I’ve met with several students from other NH 4-credit institutions who were considering transferring to PSU or taking some of their courses with us. When they discover our courses are 3 credits they decide not to enroll here. Their feeling is that for roughly the same cost and effort (even though there is increased class time) they can earn 4 credits at their current institution and will therefore graduate quicker. Even though they would prefer a PSU degree, in the end, they decided to stay where they were because the 3-credit curriculum would slow them down.

    2) A faculty member recently shared with me comments from a parent of a prospective student that our competitors are selling themselves on the 4-credit model. They are telling parents and students that students only need to take 4 classes at a time and they will be more successful concentrating on 4 courses and will have a better chance of graduating in four years. This is significant give the cost of education and the reduction in availability of student loans.
    With the significant loss of college-age going students, competition for students will increase every year until 2020. The demographic shift beginning next year combined with the significant loss of student loan opportunities worries me and it should worry us all. We need to do everything we can to remain competitive and I remain concerned about the prospects of being the only USNH institution with a 3 credit curriculum.

  30. I agree with Eric's point, in his April 17 post, about the impact of four credits on curriculum revision. If this proposal passes, faculty will have to decide which programs and courses we value the most. This is true whether or not we increase the caps since, as Julie pointed out in her April 13 post, increasing average class sizes will not and cannot be done equally across ALL classes simply by increasing caps. To be clear, she made this point in regards to an average increase of 7 students, but it applies proportionately to smaller increases as well. Not only will some classes be constrained by physical space or computer/equipment limitations, many courses are already constrained in their actual enrollments by specialization. The advanced or specialized course in Virginia Woolf or tech comm or the anatomy of north atlantic sea anenomes will not likely attract MORE students than before (since a four-credit system will give them fewer opportunities to experiment or specialize), so the increased enrollments will either have to be absorbed by other courses, or these specializations will need to be "reconsidered."

    Shrinking the curriculum may not be an entirely bad thing. Under the 3-credit system, the more or less steady additions of a new course here or a small program there have become routine. Many of these are motivated out of a desire to allow students to specialize. The current system theoretically allows for depth of study AND breadth AND choice. But the resulting size of our overall curriculum has grown out of all proportion to the size of our institution. Some departments faced with massive restructuring of their curricula may be inspired to do some needed pruning. If you value ALL of the courses in your program's current curriculum you may be faced with some painful decisions.

    And I think Eric is correct when he says the biggest impact will be felt at the Gen Ed level (parts of which may NEED pruning) and especially on the courses that comprise the First Year Experience.

    On the other hand, I disagree with his conclusion on student workload. I've never subscribed to the notion that our students (on average) are overworked by their classwork. I doubt that was his implication. Rather, I think the argument from the Pro side was that an average of five classes was too many for most students to focus on. When Eric says "4 classes instead of 5 but one more hour a week in class (16 cr v s15 cr), 33% more work in each class + higher academic expectations should equal a significant increase in outside work." I say great! If Eric's conclusion is that this increase in the overall amount of work undermines the proposal, I would have to disagree. If I had the time to grade all of the additional writing that I would LIKE to assign students in my tech comm or journalism classes, and if I thought that said writing was competing with fewer foci (not less work), that's exactly what I would be doing. Speaking of competing foci for our students, the increased weight of any given class on a student's GPA will not only allow for, it will _demand_ more focus, better study habits, fewer distractions from their academic pursuits.

    So despite my concerns about implementation and about impact on specialized courses, I may end up supporting this proposal. First, because the classes our students WILL take will have the potential to be richer courses (though I will mourn the courses they cannot take) and it will reinforce the message that their academic obligations outweigh their other pursuits.

    Second, because Faculty workload (and specifically the 4/4 teaching demand) is obviously a pressing problem. When I came out of industry to teach here, I didn't know enough about academia to fully appreciate the demands of a 4/4 teaching load but I was smitten by the character of PSC--the small class sizes, the engaged faculty, the focus on teaching. Not all of the changes that have occurred since we changed to a University have met with unanimous acclaim, but most of these have not directly interfered in the classroom. Drastic increases in class sizes would change the character of PSU in ways we have not yet had to countenance. Since we can't mint the money it would take to dramatically expand the size of our faculty, I don't see any realistic alternatives on the table to address the issue of faculty workload.

  31. Impact on students

    I am pleased that the focus of the faculty meeting was on students and the impact such a change would have on them. At the faculty meeting I said I believed there is one reason we should consider such a change to 4 credits. That is, if it is good for the students. We all agree that this will be a great deal of work to transform the curriculum. We should only take this on if we believe it will benefit students. There is nothing I would like more than to have clear data that shows that when you change from 3 to 4 credits students graduate more quickly and have greater success in class. Unfortunately, changing a curriculum from 3-4 credits requires changes to majors, general education and a revision of the entire curriculum. There are simply too many confounding variables to be able to point to any institution that has undergone a change from 3 to 4 credits and to make any determination about causality. If we are waiting for a research study to tell us that changing from 3-4 credits is good or bad, we won’t find it. So we move on to questions we can answer.
    When I spoke about “gut feeling” at the faculty meeting, I was referring specifically to this question above- whether students would be more successful in graduating on time because of the difficulty in obtaining direct evidence from research as I outlined above. My comments, however were based on more than gut feeling. They are based on a great deal of data. I’ve spent significant time looking at PSU retention and graduation rates and hours looking at our students’ loan indebtedness figures and the impact just one more year has on student debt. It is staggering.
    Consider these points:
    • In 2007, PSU students who graduated in 4 years with college loans, left with $32,000 in debt.
    • Fully 15% or our students enroll in only 4 courses (12 credits). Thirty percent of our fulltime students enroll in less than a full load (12-14 credits). Unless these 30% are going to take a course every winter and every summer to make up for the lost credits, they will require 1 additional year even if they pass all their courses.
    • PSU’s graduation rates are 27%, 47%, 57% in 4, 5, and 6 years.

    As shown in the graduation rate data above, of the students who graduated from PSU, less than half did so in 4 years with the other half taking 5 or 6 years.
    Over the course of repayment, a 5th year in school will cost the student $17,893 MORE than a student who completes in 4 years (includes principal + interest).
    The argument was made at the faculty meeting that with a 4 credit system with students taking 16 credits, it would be harder and more costly for students to catch-up by taking overload or winterim or summer classes due to needing to take a 4 credit course vs. a 3 credit course. This argument is a moot point if students are able to graduate in 4 years instead of 5 or 6. Right now we have more students graduate in 5 or 6 years (30%) than those that graduate in 4 (27%). Paying overload or winterim/summer tuition for one, two, three, or even four courses is significantly less than the cost of attendance for one or two more years.

  32. I just read through all the posts, again, and had a few thoughts.

    Earlier there was a disagreement over whether the ‘data’ gathered by the task force should be considered data or mere anecdotes. Whether the positive stories are anecdotes or data depends on how representative they are of the feelings of the faculty and students at Keene and the other schools visited. In other words, are we just hearing the stories from those who favored the change? Are there significant numbers of people, like the unnamed woman David Zehr spoke of, who do not like the change? Perhaps the Credit Model Task Force can shed some light on this issue.

    Others have stated that we really don’t have solid evidence that the 4-credit model will lead to better student performance, and we shouldn’t act until we have such evidence. (As Julie Bernier pointed out, given the potential for confounding variables we probably will never get clean, unambiguous evidence on this issue, at least not for a number of years). I’d like to suggest the opposite: Unless we have clear evidence that the 3-credit model is better for our students, the benefits to faculty workload alone should tip the tables in favor of switching to the 4 credit system. Clearly, preparing and administrating (i.e., grading, record-keeping, etc.) 3 unique courses each semester WILL be less time consuming than doing the same work for 4 unique courses. And as a chair, I can assure you it’s much easier to convince someone to teach an extra section of a course they’re already scheduled to teach than one that will involve an additional unique preparation.

    The 4-credit system will also be more attractive to job candidates, especially those with competing offers from schools with a 3-3, or lighter, teaching load. And certainly candidates who expect - and are expected - to continue their program of research.

    Finally, given the price of textbooks, I’m sure our students would greatly appreciate having to buy books for one less course. Especially when the typical Introductory Psychology textbook now costs more than $100, yet contains many more chapters and topics than the typical instructor could ever cover in one semester. Aware of this, many students simply do not buy the book. With the extra course time, faculty will be able to take more complete advantage of these often-excellent textbooks. Students, in turn, will feel better about buying them, and buying fewer of them.

    For the above reasons, and the many others that have been expressed in the majority report and this forum, I think the advantages, especially - but not exclusively - to our students, for switching to a 4-credit system far outweigh the disadvantages. I hope enough of you feel the same way.

    Paul Fedorchak, Psychology Department

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