The Education Policy and Planning Committee proposed on Friday to add a point to courses with two weekly lectures and a discussion section.
The recommendation to increase the point value from 3 points to 4 points came after the EPPC—a committee of professors, students, and administrators formed in 2012—reviewed results of a survey conducted during the past academic year that assessed student stress levels, course loads, major and concentration rates, and homework levels.
“Lecture courses with discussion sections that are routine parts of the course are the one course form that appeared most obviously under-valued (in terms of points) within our course structure,” EPPC chair and history professor Susan Pedersen said in an email to Spectator.
Pedersen said that the rationale behind adding the extra point comes from a consistent rise in the number of courses, majors, and programs students take on during their time at Columbia, which is often detrimental to the caliber of their work. According to the survey, approximately half of students who declare multiple majors complete both.
“This is a modest change, but we hope that by bringing point values for such courses more into line with our expectations about student work, we are signaling that four courses of this kind is as ‘normal’ a course load as five three-point courses,” Pedersen said.
The EPPC can only make recommendations, but Pedersen said the committee plans to work with the Committee on Instruction and individual departments over the coming academic year to make point-value changes to appropriate courses.
Pedersen indicated that departments heavy in courses that have the biweekly lecture and discussion section format, like the social sciences, were receptive to EPPC’s recommendation. Virginia Fortna, chair of the political science department, said she’s in favor of the proposed changes.
“I think rationalizing the point system such that similar types of courses across and even within different departments have the same point value is quite important—at the moment there is often no rhyme or reason to what is assigned 3 vs 4 points,” Fortna said in an email. “So in general I support this initiative.”
The survey, which primarily dealt with stress and academic workload, was distributed to Columbia College and School of General Studies students and had an overall response rate of 25 percent.
Students perceive that the average number of courses a Columbia student takes is higher than the actual number of courses respondents indicated they took—a trend that EPPC believes puts an increased pressure on students as they choose their courseload.
“The question of student stress is a complex one. We recognize that our students are ambitious and capable: they want to do a lot. What we want to do is to make sure that our curricular structure makes it possible for students to do challenging programs in ways that are in line with our intellectual values,” she said.
Columbia College Student Council Academic Affairs Representative Nora Habboosh, CC ’14, said that she supports the recommendations.
“Generally, I think it’s a good change. I think that students will really appreciate getting point credit for the time they’re putting in outside of lecture in a discussion section,” Habboosh said.
Habboosh added that she hopes that students have a voice in further academic policy review.
“It will hopefully offer some more collaboration between CCSC and those committees, which are largely staffed by faculty who, for the most part, we don’t have a lot of access to,” she said. “If we collaborate, I think we can produce some data that we can really work with to make some change.”
CCSC Vice President of Policy Bob Sun, CC ’14, agreed with Habboosh and said he hopes EPPC and other administrative bodies will be transparent going forward.
“This is good that they’re releasing some of the survey data. I hope it’s all released soon and I hope that students get to be involved in this decision-making process. We have student representatives on these committees. I hope that the conversations, the agendas of these committees and the whole decision making process continues to be made public,” Sun said. “It seems that administrators have sort of fallen back into their old ways of being opaque and harder to penetrate. I hope that there’s a renewed commitment to transparency.”
Though the change is purely academic for CC students, it poses a financial consideration for GS students, who pay for their tuition based on credits taken rather than at a flat rate per semester like CC students.
“With 124 credits required, technically the cost of completing a bachelor’s will remain the same,” General Studies Student Council Academic Affairs Representative Malcolm Marcoulides, GS, said. “My main concern is that this does not disproportionately affect students of the School of General Studies and that it moves forward in a way that is fair.”
Ultimately, Sun said that this recommendation would be a welcome one.
“We’re regularly on par with the number of courses—with the number of hours we’re on par with MIT and Caltech, and way above Yale and Harvard, and that’s not where we should be,” Sun said. “I hope this policy [recommendation] will be the beginning of further changes within the college in terms of credits.”