Miller: A Pedagogical Policy Change

by Jon Miller | 9/28/14 6:32pm

Recently, the Advanced Placement credit policy and the policy regarding how many four-course terms students can take without incurring extra tuition fees underwent significant changes at the College. The Class of 2018 is the first affected by the change of policy. For these students, AP credit awarded in high school can no longer count toward the 35 credits required to graduate. Although this policy has been unpopular among students, we should actually praise the College’s decision to uphold its commitment to high-quality education. The AP policy and four-course term policy changes fundamentally work toward the College’s pedagogic mission.

It is unreasonable to argue that an AP credit is equivalent to a Dartmouth class, especially in language and science classes. Former Committee on Instruction chair Hakan Tell, who was interviewed by the New York Times and Inside Higher Ed in early 2013 regarding the change of policy, noted a sobering statistic: only 10 percent of more than 100 students who scored a five on their AP psychology exams passed Dartmouth’s introductory psychology exam. Clearly, AP classes (and the exam scores which come from them) are not equivalent to the College’s classes. They do not present the same level of difficulty or reflect a uniform understanding of the material offered. Though AP tests are standardized, the manner in which students are taught the material, and even the material itself, may vary from school to school.

Tell also noted that many students use pre-matriculation credits to take more two-course terms, rather than graduate early and save on tuition fees. As Tell mentioned, this reduced course load is indeed a “pity” if we are to believe that students still come to Dartmouth to learn. Indeed, I have personally observed that pre-matriculation credits are often used not for their intended purpose. When students use credits to take more two-course terms or have “easier” schedules rather than to graduate earlier, our education is far less academically rigorous. This works against the mission of the College.

Claims that the new policy makes the D-Plan less flexible are unfounded. There is still more than ample time for students to fulfill their graduation requirements, major requirements and take a wide variety of classes — so much so that it is not uncommon to meet people who are double majors or who go on multiple study abroad trips unrelated to their majors. The D-Plan is still very flexible by most standards, and having fewer credits upon entering the College would have a very minimal effect (if any) on the flexibility of most students’ long-term schedules. As a transfer student who will only spend three years at the College — and who did not receive an enormous amount of useful classes transferred over from Cornell University — I have not found it particularly difficult to fulfill major requirements and graduation requirements even though I was essentially a year behind after transferring.

With the loss of easy pre-matriculation credits, the College has increased the number of four-course terms students can take. Now, students can take four, not three, four-course terms without incurring extra tuition fees. Previously, taking a four-course term above the then-limit of three would have cost roughly an extra $5,000 in tuition. Last year, 35 students petitioned to do an extra four-course term despite the high cost. With this financial barrier gone, the new policy provides a great opportunity for students to take at least one extra class if they so desire. Four extra classes over the course of four years may not seem like a lot, but it can certainly prove useful if strategically planned. Any students genuinely interested in learning at Dartmouth should not lament the loss of pre-matriculation credits.

Perhaps some students feel they can’t graduate early because of the new pre-matriculation credit policy change. But the new policy more than addresses that complaint. It sends a clear message: if you want to graduate early, you can — but you are going to do it by working hard, not by bringing in a bunch of (truthfully substandard) pre-matriculation credits. And under the academic standards of Dartmouth, this is how it should be.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Sept. 29, 2014):

The online edition of this column inserted Abhishek Parajuli's column in the same link. These links have been revised.

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