Here’s what Columbia’s changes to credit requirements really mean

In the name of student wellness, Columbia made some changes to its academic policies

Now over a month done, the 16-17 academic year has officially slid to the periphery of Columbia students’ vision. After taking a few weeks off from Columbia-related stress, students have slowly recovered from their academic paranoia. Unfortunately for them, such paranoia may need to return way earlier than they may have hoped. Because on May 12th, Dean Valentini headed an email describing policy changes for the 17-18 Academic Year, putting many students in an interesting spot. Details of the changes are below:

Let’s break this down and assess these changes effectiveness.

Some context for each change:

The first bullet describes that, effective next year, A CC student will be able to earn a maximum of 18 credits per semester. This is a three credit decrease from the previous limit of 22. This effectively makes taking 6 classes per semester near-impossible, and perhaps even difficult to take 5, depending on the type of class in question (math classes tend to be three credits, history classes four, etc.).

Next, the policy change asserts that a student may only declare a maximum of two programs of study,  defined as either a “major, concentration, or special concentration.” Sorry for all of you triple majors out there, those days have seemingly come to an end. (The previous limit was three programs of study.)

And lastly, the change admits that while students may only elect two programs of study, Columbia has increased the amount of courses that students may “double-count” courses to fulfill requirements for two different programs of study. For example, if a student was to double major in Economics and Statistics, then perhaps the Intro to Calculus-Based Statistics course would fulfill the Statistics requirement for each major.

Before we criticize any of these modifications, we should realize that Columbia is coming from a good place when enacting these policies. Certainly, Columbia College has decided to take action to mitigate academia-related stress on campus. Columbia’s high-stress environment, whether student- or academically-generated, is well documented, and we should applaud Columbia’s efforts to curb academic pressure.

However, these policies may actually make certain aspects of scheduling and academic planning more difficult for students.

Andrew Rodriguez, CC ’20, says that while he “fundamentally agrees” that the policy changes are part of a “long term solution for incoming first years and beyond”, these changes do not represent a “complete solution.” He further explains that while this policy limits the amount of credits a student may take, students’ programs of study are constrained not by number of credits, “but the number of courses they need to take” to fulfill their respective majors and concentrations.

By this logic, being able to take only four classes instead of five may prove as burdensome to a student’s four year plan as the stresses associated with taking an extra class.

While this argument has merit, complete advocates of the change might see right through this, citing that the second modification (the limit on the number of programs of study) would render Andrew’s concern nonexistent. With a limit on the amount of programs of study, they would argue, students inherently would have fewer requirements to fulfill.

However, we should not be so quick to concede to the second rule. As standards of higher education have allowed in years past, students should be able major in an area of career focus, while concentrating in areas of interest. Furthermore, they should not be limited in these endeavors.

Furthermore, enacting a policy effective immediately for all grades (Freshman through Senior), may cause further difficulty for those students who have already elected more than two programs of study. While further reading on the policy asserts that students who have already declared more than two programs of study are allowed to keep them, the semesterly credit limit (18) still makes it difficult to pull all of those requirements off in limited time.

Clearly, both the decrease in the credit maximum and the limit on programs of study represent a positive feedback loop that results in taking less classes, and therefore, electing less programs of study consequently. While ultimately some students may find these changes a boon and others may find them a burden, the administration must couple these changes with flexibility in the short term. This means, allowing students to individually petition to increase their course load if they truly need to.

While the prospects of these changes appear murky for students gunning to complete requirements they have already committed to, I can’t help but root for the success of this venture in curbing academic stress of incoming freshman and Columbia students thereafter.

Columbia University