BY NICOLE VILLACRÉS ’18
The Office of the Registrar announced in an email sent out March 28 that they would no longer grant four credits for any 3-credit courses taken at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, starting in fall 2017.
Elizabeth Pyle, Mount Holyoke’s registrar, explained that the decision came out of the transition that UMass has undergone in offering more 4-credit courses. Before being the registrar at MHC, Pyle was the Registrar at UMass and noted that 10 years ago, UMass had no 4-credit courses, which was why MHC would inflate the number of credits for its students participating in the intercollege exchange. “Back in the day when they had only 3-credit courses, it was easier to ignore, but now they are up to a pretty high percentage of 4-credit courses.”
UMass requires 120 credits for graduation, which they expect students to fulfill by taking five 3-credit courses per semester. The logic behind 3-credit courses according to Pyle is that “the scope would be narrower and you would have more courses that you are taking.” Mount Holyoke requires 128 credits for graduation and it is specifically for this requirement that the registrar will not be inflating credits. “We looked closely at how many credits our students have when they graduate, and for many people, they graduate with more than 128, so they have enough of a cushion to be able to do this without having to change anything about what they will take,” said Pyle.
Students disagree regarding the difference in the workload of a 3-credit course at UMass and a 4-credit course at MHC.
“It’s disingenuous, because Mount Holyoke touts the Five College Consortium and uses that as a selling point of the College to prospective students. But if they will only be getting three credits for courses with workloads that are pretty much the same as 4-credit courses at MHC, then those students are going to get here and realize that taking advantage of the consortium isn’t as easy as they had hoped or thought,” said Nicole Andrews ’19, who had considered taking a computer science elective at UMass but backed out because of the credit discrepancy.
Pyle said that her office did have concerns about how the change would affect Five College majors such as dance, astronomy and architecture, but decided it would not have a huge impact. Dance performance classes are consistently two credits, so they were never included in the question of inflation. Pyle notes that architecture courses at UMass are now between four and eight credits. Ultimately, Pyle says that her department has left the question of how credits count toward major requirements to the specific departments.
“We were very clear with departments across the spectrum, whether they are Five College majors or not, that we were evaluating how the credits were going to be consistently treated toward the 128 [credit requirement] but the departments still had authority on how those courses counted in the context of their own major,” said Pyle. “So if you have a major that requires 36 credits and the student has taken a Five College course, it would be up to the major department to decide whether the student can count that 3-credit course as if it were a 4-credit course.”
Nikole Giovannone ’18 is one of the students who takes issue with departments having the ability to determine how classes are transferred in and the effect this will have on special majors. “I think this just points to the fact that this change is arbitrary, as even a 3-credit UMass class can transfer in as four credits in some departments, but three in others,” she said. She has designed a special major in psycholinguistics.
“In order to graduate in 2018, I have to take 16 credits in both the fall and spring. Because of this new policy and the last required class I must take at UMass, I will only have 15 credits my spring semester and be one credit short of graduating. This will force me to take an additional class that I did not want to take, as I was planning on spending my time working on my thesis and applying for graduate school,” said Giovannone. If the change had been implemented earlier, Giovannone would have been “severely influenced” to balance out the course work that she had already had to work to have approved by the registrar.
Pyle asserted that the move to make the decision was prompted by the work UMass had committed to their faculty governance process and their “intricate system” of determining the credit value of a course and how Mount Holyoke “couldn’t continue to ignore that.” Smith initiated the same change last fall, as they had also been previously inflating 3-credit UMass classes to 4-credit. Pyle notes that the change has worked well.
Giovannone disagrees and finds the changes in the weight of classes to be an “insult” to her time. “I spend just as much time and effort physically attending and doing classwork for my UMass classes as I do for Mount Holyoke classes, but will receive less credit for the same work,” she said.
Madison Leighty ’19 is also a special major with a focus on linguistics and has been taking several classes at UMass. “The credit change means that classes I need to complete my major, which generally take the same amount of time and work per week as MHC classes do, may start to count for [fewer] credits than a standard MHC credit, which could affect my ability to complete my major and graduate on time,” Leighty said. She hasn’t had the chance to work out the details of her plans for graduation with her advisor because she only found out about the change upon being contacted for an interview.
Aside from linguistic classes set at three credits, all language classes at UMass remain at three credits, which proves difficult for students who rely on UMass language classes to advance their study of a foreign language. Gwenna Emerson ’19 has been taking German classes at UMass for her German minor because at the end of her first year, she had already taken the highest level of German that Mount Holyoke has to offer.
“I’m taking 300-level German currently at UMass and plan to take a 400 level there before I go abroad in the spring. I’ll get my four credits for this semester, but since Mount Holyoke announced the new policy I will only receive three credits for a class that meets just as much as an MHC class and has the same or more work which is really frustrating,” Emerson said. “All undergraduate language courses (teaching/taught in a foreign language) are three credits at UMass no matter what number they are or how advanced, which really isn’t fair. I’m working it out right now with the heads of the German department at UMass and here but it’s been really frustrating and the registrar’s office here has been pretty uncooperative.”
Emerson said that she understands the need for distinction since UMass now offers more 4-credit classes, but still finds it unfair that all languages there are three credits. “I think that UMass and more importantly the Mount Holyoke registrar should make a credit transfer exception for — at the very least — foreign language classes,” Emerson said.
Students with special majors have also expressed concern about the negative impact the change will have on their academic scholarships. Mollie Kowalchik ’18 has created a special major in exercise science and takes two classes at UMass each semester in the kinesiology department. The change will not affect her graduation credit requirement because she brought in many credits from Advanced Placement classes, but it affects her eligibility for her merit-based scholarship which requires that she enroll in 16 credits per semester.
“Due to this change, I will now be below the necessary 16 credits and will be forced to take another class or forfeit the aid. I just think it is ridiculous to award less credit to a class that is the same amount of time per week, or more, than a 4-credit MHC course,” she said. “I have found that even classes with a laboratory or discussion component in addition to 2 1/2 hours of lecture per week are only awarded three credits. Very few classes I have taken are four credits at UMass. Unfortunately, our credit systems are not comparable, but I believe it should be about amount of time spent in class.”