Earlier this month, after a faculty vote, students were reminded they will need to complete a senior capstone course by the end of their senior year in order to earn a degree from Hillsdale College. The school decided to immediately implement the new curriculum in the fall 2019 without allowing students any sort of grace period or trial.
Many students entered into their college course planning with high expectations of double majoring, earning a minor(s), or even having the opportunity to study remotely, but due to the hefty liberal arts core curriculum, many students feel they have had to sacrifice their academic goals.
Transfer student Victoria Marshall said, “I transferred in as a junior, and even though I came in with 60 credits, I will not be able to graduate in two years. Because the core curriculum is so big I have to be at Hillsdale for at least three. I was planning on going on WHIP, but at this point it will be super hard to manage.”
Another transfer student, Caroline Hennekes, says that although an Art-English double major would have been possible a year ago, with the increasing requirements, she does not find it possible to accomplish this, even with summer classes and study abroad.
Other students respond to the core curriculum with disappointment of not being able to minor in journalism or art due to the heavy core requirements, although they already have credits for courses in those areas and are highly involved in extracurricular activities associated with the studies.
With these already heavy requirements, the faculty has decided it will now implement yet another one-credit course, which could make it even harder for students to accomplish some of their goals at Hillsdale. Furthermore, the senior capstone has yet to be tested with any graduating class.
Though the course was listed in students’ course catalogs starting in the 2016 – 17 school year, the course is being implemented with little prior disclosure to students of what it would entail. Without any previous experience offering this style of lecture or class, the administration, by implementing it within the next year, is putting graduating students’ GPAs and academic records at risk.
Implementing a core requirement without testing its curriculum is a mistake. The newer core classes are proof of this: As a first-semester freshman, I took Logic and Rhetoric while the textbook we used for the semester was still being written — we even received extra credit for finding any errors in the textbook while reading.
It is hasty and unprofessional for the administration to implement new teaching material without first providing a grace period or trial-and-error process. If the administration wishes to implement the new curriculum so quickly, the class should initially be graded on an attendance and participation basis. Students should complete the course on a pass/no-pass grading system.
Considering the existence of comprehensive exams for every major, the written exams should be obsolete for at least for a year or two, or however long it may take the departments to find mastery. Professors should be given time to ensure that new courses, like the senior capstone, are up to par with classroom and teaching standards, and that students’ GPAs are not negatively influenced due to a lack of experience. After this trial period, the administration could then deem the one-credit course worthy of a letter grade.
With the passing of this senior capstone, the administration illustrated that it does not believe an additional one-credit course will significantly impact students’ course loads. A recent Collegian article on the new senior capstone quoted Arnn saying that “a one-credit course seems to be what faculty and students can manage with their schedules.”
But let’s say, theoretically, this one-credit class pushes a student over the edge of his full-time student status and causes him to pay extra for a course he didn’t plan on taking. Messing with students’ financial planning and scholarships is not something that should be taken lightly, simply because an additional class is “only” one-credit.
In the journalism program, students are encouraged to take part in the once-per-semester Pulliam Fellow one-credit course, where a guest journalist teaches a week-and-half-long class on a modern aspect of journalism. More than once I have witnessed students trying to enroll in the one-credit course only to find themselves pushing over the course limit for their full-time student status, and being faced with an additional $800 class if they choose to enroll. If this occurs with extracurricular courses students are not required to take, then it must be even more likely for it to occur with a required seminar.
Many would argue that a one-credit course only requires an hour or two of time per week, but more likely than not, one-credit classes require a longer time commitment. Students will be required to attend five class-wide lectures from President Larry Arnn and five departmental lectures in a student’s own major, according to the proposal crafted by the provost’s office and the academic deans. The course will be concluded with two 1.5‑hour essay tests. Looking at its proposed schedule, the Senior Capstone will require more than an hour or two of students’ time per week, in addition to their regular academic schedule. Not only do students not have the time to commit and make this class work, but professors, on top of their usual course loads and comprehensive exams, will have to add this to their list of to-do’s toward the end of a school year.
Professor of Economics Gary Wolfram says that during the spring he already typically has around 80 to 90 students, which means that at the end of the semester he grades this same number of final exams.
This step to make an additional senior capstone course a suddenly noted requirement for both next year’s and proceeding seniors, after several years of uncertainty of what it would look like, is unmindful and even negligent. Upperclassmen and professors are rightly hesitant — so why is the administration pushing this course so soon? Reliable and representative education requires a concern for the academic wellbeing of each student and professor, especially when introducing a course students’ degrees will depend on.