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Friday, October 30, 2020


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Addressing a disparity in credit hours for science majors

Imagine a teapot full of boiling water that is placed on a back burner to cool down. What happens when the water is left on the back burner for too long?

This coming May, students majoring in the sciences will graduate and receive zero credit for all the labs they have taken throughout their four years at Richmond. Gaining credit for science labs is a topic that was once hot, but has now become cold and suppressed. Richmond faculty and student government have placed the issue on the back burner when it should never have been moved there in the first place.

Let’s stop and do some math, shall we? After all, I am a science major, so this shouldn’t be too grueling. A lab typically takes up three hours a week, and if each semester consists of 14 weeks, one lab requires 42 extra hours of a science student’s schedule alone. But it doesn’t stop there, because professors expect students to dedicate extra time outside of lab studying for quizzes, completing lab reports and analyses, printing out research posters and preparing for poster presentations. On average, students are expected to work approximately five to seven hours a week inside and outside of lab. That totals about 84 hours per semester.

Not to mention that it is not uncommon for science majors to take two -- sometimes even three -- courses with a lab in a single semester.

By the time I graduate, I will have completed a total of 11 courses with a laboratory section, meaning that I will have clocked in about 924 hours total in completing lab work throughout my four years at Richmond. It adds up.

And yes, this is not including the course lecture component.

The 924 hours are not spent fruitlessly. These hours are spent analyzing and interpreting results, composing formal lab reports, performing experiments and much more. The laboratory section is a vital component to the science education, but its existence is not given enough credit, figuratively and literally. The time and effort that is exerted into labs is worthwhile, valuable and rewarding. Everything that science students do and learn in lab contributes to their educational experience in college, but this gain is not accompanied with any sort of virtue from the school by any means.

Richmond’s current academic policies translate credit hours directly into units, with one credit hour equaling .29 units. Federal regulations require the equivalent of 12 to 19 credit hours per semester for full-time status, which also equals three-and-a-half to five-and-a-half units, according to the academic advising resource center. Universities and colleges that use the credit hour system typically deem that one course is worth three credits, while a course with an additional supplementary section is worth four. At Richmond, a course is worth one unit, and a science course with a laboratory section is also worth one unit.

“It’s been a pretty complex issue to tackle,” said Brad Groves, former RCSGA president. Groves explained that when Richmond moved from the credit hour system to the unit system, many classes weren’t balanced correctly. The change was introduced into Richmond during the Fall of 2008, according to the academic advising resource center.

“Every class is supposed to take 10-14 hours [per week] to fulfill one unit,” he said. “A lot of the science faculty believes that their courses including the lab and time out of class fulfill that one unit requirement whereas a lot of other courses maybe don’t actually take 10-14 hours [per week].”

Students in labs work approximately five to seven hours a week in addition to course lecture components. So by definition, science labs qualify to be worth at least half a unit. You do the math.

There are a couple options that could be done to address this conundrum. The first would be to reassess and ratiocinate the unit value of each and every course at Richmond. It is erroneous to consider that students who are in lab sections have the same amount of workload as students who aren’t in labs. I understand that it would be tedious and time-consuming to reevaluate courses, but science students like myself have also taken the extra time to fulfill all our lab work without obtaining any sort of credit. 924 hours if I’m going to be precise.

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The second option would be to revert back to the credit hour system. The faculty at Richmond stated that “there has been a leveling of courses” in a report released Fall 2008. This “leveling” could not be more lopsided. The switch to the unit system has depreciated the laboratory component of science courses, as they are worth essentially nothing. In essence, the amount of units gained from taking a laboratory section is equivalent to the amount of units gained from taking a wellness class at Richmond.

It’s time for this topic to be reheated. With Angelo Suggs as the next RCSGA president, I hope that he will address this issue, as it has been overlooked for too long. This pot needs to be taken off the back burner and returned to the heated stove.

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