Recently, the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education conducted a survey to shine light on the growing demand for an expanded half-credit course system here at Penn. Among students that responded to the survey, almost 60 percent said they had never taken a half-credit course before; however, when they were asked if they would want to take one in a future semester, 95 percent responded “Yes” or “Maybe.”
The freshmen class proved to be the most responsive class to SCUE’s survey — 34 percent compared to 27 percent of 2019, 22 percent of 2018 and 17 percent of 2017 — which proves that student engagement and involvement in half-credit courses will evolve as students would like to utilize them during their undergraduate academic career.
But why haven’t students taken them? According to the survey, "the most common reasons why students had previously not taken half-credit courses include scheduling difficulties, inability to search for these types of courses on Penn InTouch, lack of awareness of their existence and limited selection." And as a member of the Academic Affairs committee of Undergraduate Assembly, I agree.
Working to expand half-credit courses proved to be one of the biggest — and most time consuming — projects I had the privilege of working on, as it was a department by department uphill battle. Half-credit courses provide students the opportunity to explore courses with a limited academic burden and smaller time commitment in comparison to full time courses, hence easing the mental health of students across our University.
When we talk about mental health, among other things it is important to evaluate our academic experiences and how we choose to maximize them at a school like Penn. I feel that throughout our academic lives, we take courses based on what grades we will receive, rather than their content. This has caused students to miss out on many learning experiences and disciplines outside of their comfort zone.
I’ve seen students interested in art history major in finance and those interested in computer science and software technology shift their major to pre-med because it’s more common. Even as for myself, I’m extremely interested in subjects like software technology and music, but I know courses within that department have the potential to make a semester feel like hell on earth.
From University Council protests to the puppies we see on campus every other month, mental health and student well-being has been a topic that has dominated conversations around Penn’s campus. And while our day-to-day lives as students and various social patterns on campus play a dominant role in our personal well-being and health, our academics and school work do too.
It does not take a survey to know that students are feeling overwhelmed by their lives or lack confidence in their abilities due to their workload and its intensity. I believe that by allowing students to take a less demanding course load, half-credit courses and preceptorials provide students the opportunity to explore multidisciplinary topics without sacrificing substantial time, energy and health.
I’ll be the first to admit that on an administrative level Penn has taken numerous steps towards addressing this issue. For instance, pass-fail courses prove to be a way for students to earn a credit for courses they want to take, while eliminating potential factors it may have on their GPA and course load. However, considering the workload students may face in taking such courses, the pass-fail initiative is often utilized for reasons outside of taking classes that people are truly interested in.
Going forward, I believe that as students and administration we can take many steps towards diminishing mental health problems through expanding half-credit courses and implementing more student-run preceptorials. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences can model Wharton’s MD program and push for a revamp of the half-credit curriculum so that departments then can set "loose" rules and guidelines for professors to make sure half-credit courses aren't a burden on faculty.
Through faculty-sponsored and student-run preceptorials, students who seem interested in topics yet are not looking to take heavy courses regarding them can do so through non-credit bearing and low time commitment seminars. This fall, the Wharton Dean’s Advisory Board actualized this with free non-credit bearing seminars around design, finance and coding. Unfortunately, there was high demand and long waitlists for joining such programs, due to much student interest, but this is extremely encouraging for future projects and student policy initiatives.
As students we should value learning with genuine interest in what we study and have every opportunity to do so. Let’s embrace that truth.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article did not properly attribute a quotation from SCUE's survey. The DP regrets the error.
CALVARY ROGERS is a College sophomore from Rochester, N.Y., studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Cal’s Corner” usually appears every Wednesday.
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