Students’ light course loads put four-year graduation plan in jeopardy

by Sean Madigan

Although tuition costs are rising around the country, many students will not graduate in four years, causing them to sign on for another year of student loans.
University students are averaging just 12.5 credits per quarter, 2.5 credits less than they need to be on track to graduate in four years and only half a credit more than the minimum 12 required for full-time status and financial aid. And that is not likely to change when the University switches to semesters in fall quarter next year.
Office of Planning and Analysis Director Peter Zetterberg is worried that undergraduate credit loads might actually fall once the semester conversion takes place.
Four credit classes will change to three credit classes when the University switches to semesters, Zetterberg said. Students who have been taking four classes may continue to take the same number, but they will be worth less.
“Our main message to students is to keep their course loads up,” Zetterberg said. That means students might have to take five classes instead of four, he added.
To graduate from the College of Liberal Arts, students need 180 credits. However, students have to average at least 15 credits per quarter or 45 in an academic year to graduate in four years.
At the current undergraduate average pace of 12.5 credits per quarter, students would take almost 5 years to obtain 180 credits. Graduation would take 14.4 quarters rather than 12.
CLA students average just 13.4 credits per quarter. General College’s students average only 11.5 credits per quarter, which is half a credit less than full-time status.
The Carlson School of Management boasts one of the higher mean credit loads at the University with 14.2 credits per quarter. Associate Director of the Undergraduate Program Steve Carnes attributes this statistic to the admittance of freshmen into the program and its advising staff’s climbing expectations.
Since the business school began admitting freshman in the fall of 1996, the mean credit load has steadily increased, Carnes said.
“The expectation is that they will take 15 credits a quarter and they will graduate in four years,” Carnes said. “We project that 80 percent of the class of (2000) will graduate in four years.” Before Carlson started admitting freshmen right from high school, Carnes said the advising staff had trouble influencing the amount of credits students took because they’d come as juniors having taken 13 credits a quarter.
“Whatever habit (upperclassmen) were in of taking 12 or 13 credits, it was hard for us to change,” Carnes said.
CLA freshman Kevin Hanson is taking 13 credits this fall. He said his adviser encouraged him to take a light load at first.
“My adviser told me to take it easily and not jump into many tough classes and get smoked in my first quarter,” Hanson said. He plans to take 16 credits in his next two quarters to catch up with the school’s average.
Students cite a number of reasons for taking fewer than 15 credits, including student jobs and difficult course material.
College of Human Ecology junior Michele Wignall said she will graduate in five years. Wignall is taking 13 credits this fall and said taking any more would be too much work.
“They try and squeeze so much into such a short period of time. It’s just too hard to take more,” Wignall said. She transferred from a school with the semester system before attending the University and said taking 16 credits in a semester is more manageable because tests are spread out over a longer period of time.
Many Big Ten schools on the semester system have credit averages that indicate most students on semesters will not graduate in four years, either.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa reported their undergraduates average 13.9 and 14 credits per semester, respectively. Both schools require 120 credits for a liberal arts degree. In order to graduate in four years, students would have to take at least 15 credits per semester.
The University of Michigan’s Office of the Registrar said a liberal arts degree requires 120 credits but students are averaging 28 per year. At Purdue, the average number of credits is 14.8 which over four years equals 118.4 credits, just 7.6 short of the number required to graduate.