Any college student knows that the credit hour is the most important building block of his or her academic experience. Credit hours determine what classes to take, how many to take and determines where class caps are drawn.
Colleges and universities all across the United States and in many parts of the world use the credit hour as a standard for measuring the amount of time and effort a student must put into a particular class. However, the current credit hour system in place is broken because it fails to distribute credits in a fair and balanced manner.
The idea of the credit hour was first conceived in the late 1800s, when high schools and colleges were looking for a way to gauge how much time teachers and professors put into classes, which would then be used to determine whether or not they were eligible for pension benefits. The schools settled on a standard of one credit hour, at the time called the Carnegie Unit, being awarded to a teacher or professor for each hour they taught a class per week.
This theory soon evolved into a method of determining the amount of time students spent in class, and thus we have the credit hour system we continue to use today.
Though a noble effort by colleges and universities to measure the time students put into their course work, this system fails to do just that.
At Baylor, for example, some classes follow this standard while some seem to deviate from it. A standard upper-level core is usually awarded three credit hours, and either meets for 50 minutes three times a week or for 75 minutes twice a week, which both roughly equate to three hours in class per week. A typical lifetime fitness class, on the other hand, meets for the same amount of time but only awards one credit hour. From this perspective, it seems as though some classes are given enough weight while others are not.
A popular counter to this argument is that the modern collegiate credit hour is not supposed to be gauged in this way. Instead, colleges and universities have proposed a modified standard to the credit hour system. Under this new standard, one credit hour should be equivalent to approximately three hours spent on a class per week – one hour in class and two hours outside of class.
However, this new standard still fails to distribute credit hours fairly. True, it makes more sense to award only one credit hour for a lifetime fitness class since students spend virtually no time outside of class doing course work and three credit hours for a core upper-level course where a student may very well spend nine hours per week on the class.
Yet, the primary problem with this standard is that it makes an assumption about the amount of time a student will spend on a particular class. For example, with first-year language courses, many students study much more than the eight hours per week prescribed by the number of credit hours awarded for the course.
Though it may seem as if there is no solution to the credit hour dilemma, the answer is actually quite obvious. If colleges and universities stopped playing games with credit hours and just awarded hours the way they were originally intended, then this dilemma wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Simply put, one credit hour equals roughly one hour in class per week. Giving less credit for some classes indicates to students and teachers that their classes aren’t important enough to have “full credit” and undermines the idea of a liberal arts education as a whole.
So let’s go back to the old standard and award credit based only on hours. This is equally fair to both the students who take the courses and the professors who teach them.