Committee proposes switch to credit hour system


The Educational Affairs Committee is proposing that the college switch to a credit hour system, allowing for students to receive more than one credit for more time-consuming classes. Questions still remain, however, as to how the college would transition to the new system. The earliest that faculty would vote on the motion is at their December meeting, and the earliest potential year of implementation is 2021.

Discussions about this potential switch stemmed from concerns that the college’s current system is unfair to students who take a high number of time-intensive classes, including students who might have to balance these classes with work-study jobs. Some classes at Middlebury meet for as little as two-and-a-half hours per week, while courses with labs or discussions require many more hours in a student’s schedule. Yet courses are uniformly valued at one credit each.

This is because Middlebury uses the credit unit system to measure progress toward an undergraduate degree, within which all classes are valued at one credit on a student’s transcript. The alternative would be the credit hour system, in which universities designate credits based on the number of weekly hours a student spends in any given class. Under this system, a student with more hours of class a week would accumulate more credits for their time.

While some students expressed uncertainty about the exact benefits and drawbacks of different credit allocation systems, many feel the current policy is imbalanced.

“Last year, I took around 20 hours of class per week, and this semester, I’m only taking around 12,” Sabrina Templeton ’22 said. “It is a little bit unfair that I’m getting the same amount of credit for such different amounts of class time.”

Students who opt to take classes with time-consuming labs, screenings, and discussion sections may have difficulty studying abroad, and may not be able to take certain classes outside of their majors.

“I feel like it makes it harder for science students to study abroad and reduces some opportunity to try other subjects,” Ming Harris-Weidner ’22, an Environmental Chemistry major, said. “However, I don’t really have much of an opinion on it because I’ll be happy as long as I graduate.”

The college does provide a way to transfer credit units to credit hours for students who need to provide that information to a potential employer, or if they transfer to another school. The college’s website states that one Middlebury credit can be considered equivalent to 3.3 credit hours, while a class involving separate labs can be valued at 4.0 credit hours.

“The 3.3 credits comes from comparing the minimum credits required for a Middlebury degree, which is 36, and the minimum credits required for a bachelor’s degree in a semester hour credit system, which is 120,” Registrar Jennifer Thompson said. “It is up to each institution to decide how they will normalize our credit into their system.” 

While the credit unit system is not particularly common, many other NESCAC institutions also use it. However, not every college uses the same conversion metric — at Bowdoin College, each class translates to 4.0 credit hours, and Williams College considers each course to be 3.75 credit hours.

If faculty do vote to change Middlebury’s credit system, the college would not be the first NESCAC institution to adopt a credit hour system. 

Tufts University implemented a credit-hour system in 2018, assigning semester-hour units to each course. The number of units varies, depending on instruction time, demand of lab requirements and rigor of outside work. On their website, Tufts cites straightforward transfer of credit to other institutions and transcript standardization as the primary reasons for the change. Additionally, the university states that students can better anticipate a course’s difficulty, seeing as credit hours are assigned according to how many hours the course will take up in a week.