Credit hours should reflect course load

By Stephanie Youssef

To celebrate the end of syllabus week, most University students take advantage of the little work they have and enjoy the many amenities of evenings on campus. However, in addition to this free time, I add a celebration of my own called the “Does my course schedule need changing?” party.

During this momentous celebration, I take all of the information I learned from professors introducing their syllabuses in the first week, and I estimate whether or not my course load is satisfactory for the semester. This biannual tradition of mine has become a necessary practice because I feel the system the University has set up during typical class registration does a poor job of representing how much work each class requires.

My experiences in previous semesters have taught me that credit hours aren’t a precise measure of how time consuming a class will be. To help avoid this beginning-of-the-semester course add/drop ritual, the University should focus on making credit hours a more accurate reflection of a class’s workload.

Historically speaking, the original credit hour, known as the Carnegie Unit, measured how many hours professors spent with their students in class, with one Carnegie unit equating to one hour spent teaching.

Nowadays, in addition to determining the amount of time students spend in the lectures, discussions and labs, credit hours factor in how much work will be required from students outside of class — more credit hours equates to more work needed outside of class.

Even with this expanded definition, what past experiences have taught me is that the University’s credit hours don’t always correlate well with how time consuming a class is.

For example, Chemistry 233, Elementary Organic Chem Lab 1 is worth two credit hours. The class contains a four hour lab portion and a one hour lecture every week. When I took the class, I spent more time preparing my lab journal and studying for the lab exams than I spent studying for the five credit hour Physics 101 class.

In fact, even the University of Illinois Admissions website explicitly states that “there is NO good way to figure out how much time you will spend on a class based on the number of credit hours alone.”

A system that is seemingly simple should not have to make credit hours so un-simple.

There are many negative consequences that come with having such an inconvenient system. Anyone on campus knows there is an advantage to early registration because class sections can fill up quickly. But with the lack of adequate representation of credit hours, a full course load during registration might end up being too much. By the time the semester starts up and students realize they want to change their schedules because of varying time commitments, classes are filled, section choices are narrowed and students are in a more difficult position to fix their schedules.

Having a more accurate measure of the commitment required for a given class will likely reduce the need for students to change their schedules after initially registering.

A possible solution to help make credit hours more exact is to include questions in instructor and course evaluation forms that explicitly ask about credit hours. At the end of each semester, professors and course coordinators can then get feedback from students who already took the class on whether or not the work assigned was appropriate for the hours given.

As of now, the only accurate gauge I have on whether or not to add or drop classes is after I have seen the syllabus myself. Until the University figures out how to fix the inaccuracies with the credit hour system, you are more than welcome to join me in my “finalizing my classload party” the day before the drop deadline — it’s BYOS (Bring Your Own Schedule).

Stephanie is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]