Dropped credit ceiling? Dropped potential

by Karlin Andersen|Editor-in-Chief

A reduction in the maximum allowed credits from 17 to 16 may be moved to a tier two priority based on student feedback, Carol Simon, provost and executive vice president, said in last week’s ASWU town hall meeting that addressed the budget prioritization process.

However, this proposal should not be delayed until the university needs the estimated $200,000 in savings, but omitted altogether due to its adverse effects on students across disciplines.

Tier one of the budget proposal, if approved by the trustees, will be implemented in the next few years. Tier two is a contingency plan if tier one is not effective.

As outlined in the budget prioritization plan, if the credit ceiling were to be reduced in fall of 2019 it would not only help the university monetarily but aid students whose “academic performance and learning outcomes” are “arguably, compromised” when they exceed 16 credits.

Students taking 17 or more credits may experience an increased amount of stress compared to their peers taking below 16 credits. However, each semester students pick their classes based on a graduation plan and their load is approved by one or more advisers who are tasked with aiding that student in graduating and monitoring their credit load to assure the student can complete their courses.

A student can always choose not to take more than 16 credits, but often their major(s) is designed in such a way that requires overload or near overload. Of the nine students who spoke at last week’s ASWU meeting, five addressed the credit ceiling and several were involved with music or the performing arts. Their concerns had a similar thread— limit our credits and we cannot participate in classes our major requires, including multiple ensemble groups, mandatory lessons or theory classes.

Senior Denin Koch, majoring in music, expressed a worry that pressing students to take only necessary courses would limit them from experiencing classes outside their major including language classes that are vital to singing and reading lyrics in different languages.
Others argued credit limits would deter prospective students who may attend community college to gain general education credits before coming to Whitworth to focus on their major.

Before student comments, Simon presented statistics that showed Whitworth provides 92 percent of credits toward graduation within three years, which is 2-17 percentage points higher than other schools in Washington. Neither the statistics nor Simon addressed how courses rotate in and out of department catalogues, are offered at intervals or in specific semesters or are only taught by one professor with limited class sizes. A well-organized student who knows his or her major their first day at Whitworth, and does not change his or her major, may achieve 92 percent of classes toward graduation within three years, but it is unlikely every student will.

The biggest reason for lowering the credit ceiling is not the threat those last few credits brings to student mental health or academic retention, it is the cost to the university. Currently Whitworth loses $500,000 to students who graduate a semester or year early, or transfer from a community college.

The cost of early graduation scares Whitworth. A student like me scares Whitworth.

I brought in 32 credits from high school and had a sophomore standing, which allowed me to take only two of the three Core classes and skip many of the general education requirements. Those high school credits and Whitworth’s high credit limit allowed me to pick a major with a high credit requirement for graduation, two minors, still take some history classes I was interested in and graduate a year early.

Taking 17 credits per semester allowed me to graduate from Whitworth. Not just graduate early, but graduate. Every semester my family struggled to pay tuition and with my brother entering college next year, I would not be able to afford a fourth year. At taking an average 17 credits each semester I would have had to make the choice to either pay the overload charge or take the cheaper option of leaving Whitworth to finish my final year at another institution.

I understand Whitworth’s worries for its future financial security and its desire to maintain an institution for students for another 125 years. But students should not be limited or discouraged because they want to graduate early, need a large number of credits to sit exams such as the CPA, the MCAT or teacher certifications, need to take more credits because of their major requirements, need room in their semesters to fit in classes that are not offered consistently, or just want to take something outside their major— a feature a liberal arts university flaunts.

Other tier two changes the prioritization proposal floated included phasing out language and coaching minors if they could not increase enrollment or cut costs. In the ASWU meeting Simon encouraged those concerned about the minors to tell their friends to take the classes within the minor and even register for the minor—an option that may be closed if students can take fewer credits.

The 16 credits per semester and four credits in Jan Term proposed limit would allow students to take a maximum of 144 credits over four years. Currently, only 15 percent of students who graduate in four years have taken that maximum. Students may not be achieving the full 144 credits en mass, but students often take fewer classes as upperclassmen to balance out 400 level courses or to allow time for internships and off-campus jobs. However, the option to take 17 credits, which could allow a student to take an entire class if they were at 14 credits, should not be closed off because on paper the university does not see students taking advantage of the extra credit.

This May I will graduate with 146 credits, a B.A. in English and two minors, because of the freedom of 17 credits; I only earned 114 of those credits at Whitworth. Since I am placing a deep strain on the university maybe I should stay an extra year and boost my journalism minor to a major and get the history minor that evaded me. After all, I only have one more year of 17 credits.

Contact Karlin Andersen at kandersen18@my.whitworth.edu