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Feb. 14, 2013

Faculty against broad credit conversion

By Samah Assad

Cleveland State University is in the midst of a curriculum change-up in an effort to help students graduate faster and save tuition dollars. On Jan. 17 the Board of Trustees approved that by fall of 2014 students will need 120 credits to graduate instead of the current 128 credits. With this, all general requirement education courses will be converted from four to three credit hours, and the idea of converting courses in all majors to three credit hours remains a possibility.

During a Feb. 6 meeting the Faculty Senate voted against an across-the-board course credit conversion from four to three credit hours. The vote was an overwhelming 35-4.
Student success has been President Berkman’s major focus since he took presidency in 2009, as he formed the Student Success Committee about three years ago.

In his recent newsletter Berkman explained how he strived to make the entire Cleveland State community “move together to create and to implement an effective retention and graduation strategy.”

He has advocated the across-the-board credit conversion as part of this, explaining that Cleveland State students will greatly benefit from the change. Additionally, the university's state funding is tied to student success, which has been a major concern for Cleveland State administration.

“I firmly believe that the conversion to the dominant three credit model, which is the model at every other four institution in Ohio, is in the best interests of our students,” Berkman stated.

However, the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) raised a handful of concerns to both the fast-approaching 2014 timeline, as well as the across-the-board credit conversion.

According to Bill Kosteas, chair of the UCC, putting any changes into effect by 2014 may be impossible. He explained that courses will need state approval for transferability agreements, and their accreditation and licensing bodies must approve such changes. All changes to the curriculum must be approved by early fall of 2013 in order for department chairs to set the schedule, and for the registrar's office to finish finalizing the work in time.

“Implementation for fall 2014 is a very, very rushed timeline,” Kosteas said. “Departments have to go through the work of redesigning their courses and their majors, minors and

In order to sustain program quality and ensure that the changes do not have a negative impact on programs, the college and university curriculum committees must approve all course changes. Kosteas has been told external reviews can take at least six months.

This ticking timeline is not the only challenge that the UCC believes credit hour conversions will pose. According to their proposal, generally converting the curriculum would require a substantial allocation of faculty, administrative and staff resources. This diversion of resources, they believe, will reduce Cleveland State's ability to effectively yield a positive impact on the university's purpose of credit conversion – students completing their degrees in a timely manner.

The UCC is also worried that not addressing possible setbacks can counteract the university's goal by lengthening students' average graduation times. A student who currently takes four 4-credit courses per semester will have to take five 3-credit courses per semester to progress at the same rate.

To gain students' feedback on the matter, the UCC developed an undergraduate student survey to assess how students might be affected by the proposed changes. Vice Provost Teresa LaGrange's office sent a mass email to all undergraduate students, and 982 students participated.

Many students have expressed their displeasure with the credit conversion change, and feedback to various questions on the survey confirmed this. When asked if students would prefer to take four or three credit hour courses if their major required 36 hours, 45.2 percent reported they would prefer to take nine four-credit courses, while only 18.5 percent preferred taking 12 three-credit courses. The remaining percent favored a mixed system.

Some students feel that although a reduction of overall credits required for graduation will mean taking less number of classes and graduate earlier, but if the across-the-board credit conversion takes place they may also need to take more courses to fulfill the content requirement in many sequences. This could undercut the benefit of overall reduction in credits.

Charbel Hatem, a sophomore Engineering student, considers the credit conversion to be contradictory to the university's goal for students to graduate at a quicker, cheaper rate.
“You'd have to take more credits to be a full-time student, and this could affect my financial aid,” Hatem said. “I'm also scared that teachers will cram too much content to fit in one class, or take content away. I'm against that.”

Along with students, the UCC also surveyed department chairs. The committee learned several would need to create additional courses to provide any curriculum content that would be lost in the conversion. This would lead to a financial burden on both the professors and students, as they would need more textbooks, course materials and other resources to complete their courses successfully.

Because of these plausible challenges, Kosteas explained that flipping the entire curriculum, as well as knowing the university's next steps, are unknown until the Board of Trustees meeting in March.

“We still don't know whether we are only working to convert general education courses or the broader undergraduate curriculum,” Kosteas said.