Fifteen credits per semester, five classes, three credits each – it’s the most common student semester course load at Georgetown. But that could change if research on curriculum and schedule changes by a College committee led Georgetown to follow the credit-hour systems in place at some peer institutions.

Under the “four-by-four” system, students would take four classes per semester, each worth four credits. Since the late 1980s, Georgetown has been revising and considering its curriculum and credit-value system, College Associate Dean Hugh Cloke, explained.

The College Curriculum Renewal Project, a group of 30 faculty members, has researched different class modules and curriculum options, including the four-by-four system. The group engages in an on-going process of evaluating curricula, and within the last three years there has been renewed interest, especially by faculty as discussed during a faculty convocation on Tuesday, in adopting a four-by-four system, Cloke said. He said they were about halfway through the effort.

“There’s a desire on the part of faculty to deepen the learning of our students,” Cloke said.

For faculty members, such a system would mean they would generally teach fewer courses per semester. Still, Cloke explained that even today, the four-by-four system may not seem beneficial to all academic departments.

“A lot of smaller academic departments felt they’d be squeezed right out,” he said. With fewer choices of classes to pick under the four-by-four system, students may lean toward more popular or larger departments.

Other reasons for the renewed interest in a four-by-four schedule may be financial, Dennis Williams, director of the Center for Minority Educational Affairs and interim associate dean of students, said.

“I also believe the driving force has been faculty staffing. A four-four system would mean fewer courses and therefore fewer adjunct faculty salaries to pay,” Williams said.

Fewer classes may or may not seem enticing to students. Having fewer classes may allow students to delve deeper in specific academic subjects or material. “The seat time of students is not increasing, but the work time has,” Cloke said.

But a four-by-four system could also mean less course variety. Another concern over the four-by-four system is that the weight of a grade in a four-credit course would be heavier than a three-credit course.

Also, Cloke said students may use the extra time available in the schedules to involve themselves in extra-curricular activities instead of doing more work.

Students have yet to be engaged in the debate the way that the faculty has. GUSA President Brian Morgenstern (COL ’05) said, “Honestly, GUSA has not been informed of any of these potential changes.”

Provost James J. O’Donnell said he has not been involved in much of the discussion, but that the issue comes down to “whether we want students to do more things or to do fewer things more intensively,” adding that “faculty will have reasonable disagreements about that.”

O’Donnell said that he has not yet taken a position on the issue.

A four-by-four system is supposed to allow for students to pursue academic studies beyond what they could in a three-credit course.

“Part of the [objectives of the] CCRP is to develop some models of change to better position us over time,” Cloke said.

The CCRP has tried a few pilot programs. For example, the philosophy and sociology departments have majors with nine courses, not the usual 11. For the core education classes there would be the usual five-three schedule. But as students moved into their majors, there would be more four-credit courses available.

“It is possible some years down the road where in the College we could have [the first] two years be five-three and [the last] two years be four-four,” Cloke said. But he noted that degree requirements must change in order for students to have this type of variety in their academic programs.

Still, these changes have been made within departments and not across the board for the entire College. For now, the group will work on evaluating the current pilot programs.

University Registrar John Q. Pierce said he believes the “College is attempting to provide a blended curriculum,” he said. “In some semesters, students would take five courses or others four.”

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