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Proposed credit change gives pause

The proposed credit conversion scheme, spearheaded by the Mills College Provost’s office, has been garnering wary reactions from students and faculty.

The Social Sciences Department opposes the new conversion scheme. Eirik Evenhouse, Associate Professor of Economics, calculated that if Mills adopts the proposed credit scheme, the workload students usually take on to satisfy degree requirements will increase by approximately thirteen percent overall.

“When you look at the breakdown of classes in terms of what students take—eighty to eighty-two percent being one credit classes and six percent being one and a quarter classes—it implies a rate that is effectively thirteen percent lower than what you would need for a neutral rate,” Evenhouse said. “So, you’re cheating everybody in a sense by saying now you need to do more work to graduate.”

A neutral conversion rate, which is close to what Mills is using right now, is equal to 3.5 semester hours per credit, meaning each course that a student takes for one credit should be worth, on average, 3.5 hours per week in a semester.

“The key thing that social sciences is focused on is getting the average rate right, otherwise it’s like a country going from one currency rate to another, but getting the exchange rate wrong,” Evenhouse said. “If the average rate is less than 3.5, which it currently is in the proposal they’ve given, we’ve got a macroeconomic problem and we’re struggling to persuade our colleagues in other divisions of that.”

It currently takes 34 one-credit Mills classes to receive a Mills diploma. If the proposal is adopted, it will mean that students must take 40 one-credit Mills classes to achieve an undergraduate degree. The new proposal suggests that credits will be determined by seat time, meaning how long students are present in each class.

By that logic, some science students argue that they deserve more credits because the typical science course has a mandatory lab attached to class meeting. According to the Mills Undergraduate Course Catalog, the typical science course at Mills meets fifty minutes three times a week, and again in a mandatory three hour lab each week. For example, General Biology 1 with Lab is worth 1.25 credits. However, some science classes with a three hour lab attached are only worth one credit, such as Genetics with Lab or Microbiology with Lab.

“Mills should absolutely follow the federal guidelines and we should have credits that reflect the work we do,” senior Mo Kaze said. “Having a one-credit course on my transcript for a work/time intensive science class with lab should be viewed as a standard 4-5 unit class like it would be at other universities.”

Classes in other departments like English or Art History typically meet once or twice a week for exactly two and a half hours in total and also receive one credit or more for their course.

One idea that has been proposed to remedy the issue is extending the hours that students will be in each class, increasing the so-called seat time to match the credit value of each course.

Fred Lawson, Professor and Department Head of Government, believes that such a solution could be problematic.

“If we deal with the discrepancy by increasing seat time, both students and faculty will have to be in the classroom longer to get the same amount of credit that everyone is getting now,” Lawson said.

Lawson remarked that since he first started teaching at Mills, there has been a belief that students do more work outside the classroom for each course than they do at other major colleges and universities.

“Some of my colleagues think that that myth no longer holds and, in fact, students seem to do about the same amount of work outside class that they do anywhere else, which means that we are giving more credit for courses than ‘we should,’” Lawson said. “What if we do start telling students that a normal semester’s load at Mills is five of our existing courses? I’m not sure what might happen, and I’m increasingly worried about what will result.”

If the new credit scheme is adopted, the average course load a student would have to take to graduate in four years would rise from 4.25 credits, four classes, to 5.0 credits, five classes, per semester. Some students argue that this would not allow for other activities outside of school, like holding a job.

“Since we have a rise in costs every year, it’s unrealistic for those of us who have to pay for school by ourselves to stop working in order to take another academic class,” first-year Stephanie Szanto said. “Mills is already hard enough.”

The credit scheme will be “grandfathered in” if Mills chooses to adopt it, meaning that the new conversion rate will begin with the next incoming class, the class of 2017.

“The change would be real nonetheless – we would have made it harder to get through Mills than it is right now,” Evenhouse said in an email. “That means more students would get bad grades or drop out, or that professors will have to reduce the content in their courses or start to grade more leniently.”

Evenhouse and other members of the faculty believe that in the long-term, the credit conversion scheme as it is proposed would be “detrimental to the long-term interests of the college.” Cal Grants expire after four years, so if students are unable to take 5 courses every semester, they will be at Mills longer than eight semesters–without their Cal Grants.

Whether or not Mills will decide to change it’s credit conversion scheme will be decided at the next faculty meeting. ASMC is currently working on scheduling an open forum for students and faculty to share their thoughts.