EAC - Ad Hoc 4-Credit Conversion Committee

Draft Report to PCCs Educational Advisory Council
From the 4-Credit Conversion Committee
Prepared by Porter Raper, Chair

Executive Summary

After careful study and input from the college community, and for the reasons outlined below, the 4-Credit Conversion Committee concludes that 1) a conversion of our general education transfer courses from 3 to 4 credits would benefit the majority of our students, and 2) the EAC should recommend that the administration examine 4-credit implementation, and do so with active faculty representation.

Brief History of our Quest

The question of converting our transfer general education courses originated from the EACs policy committee in the fall of 2003, and the EAC decided to form an ad hoc committee instructed to investigate the issue, garner input from the college community (primarily faculty), and make a recommendation to the EAC.

The committee--representing faculty (in a majority), administrative, and student voices--was formed in early February and began meeting regularly on February 16th, 2004.

Duties of the 4-Credit Conversion Committee

As part of its awareness and information-gathering initiative, the committee began an email campaign to notify the college community that the EAC was exploring 4-credit conversion and would make available the minutes of committee meetings so that faculty, staff, and students could follow the discussion.

The committee also requested that the SACs most directly affected discuss the benefits and liabilities of a conversion as part of their district SAC meeting on April 16th and to report their thoughts back to the 4-credit committee. After the SAC discussions, the EAC-along with the TLCs-sponsored forums on each campus (attended by faculty, staff, and students) to answer questions, and to further gauge the interest in and concerns about a potential switch to 4 credits.

As we took the faculty pulse regarding conversion, the committee also learned about related issues by talking to administrators and faculty at Lane, Clackamas, and Central Oregon community colleges, as well as the 4-year schools--Portland State, Oregon State, and University of Oregon--switching to 4-credits courses.

In addition to this, the chair of the 4-Credit Committee regularly meets with the EAC to keep them informed about the progress of the college-wide discussion and to answer questions in anticipation of the vote the Council will hold concerning the interest in and feasibility of a 4-credit switch.

Benefits

The EAC asked the committee to determine whether the 4-credit conversion would benefit the majority of our students, and we concluded that-if the concerns raised are appropriately addressed-it would. Here are the benefits we found:

Greater course breadth and depth: from a pedagogical stance, faculty believed that greater breadth and depth would likely translate into deeper learning. If faculty had more time to cover material and fully meet course and college core outcomes, the committee-along with the majority of faculty who voiced an opinion-felt that students would have a more engaged learning experience.

Reduced student course load: faculty, as a whole, believed that most students would take fewer courses (to meet a full load) and as a result would have a less fragmented college education. For our large percentage of students who are working and raising families, the committee believes that this reduced full-time load would only benefit many of our students juggling multiple lives. The evidence from other colleges supports this belief.

Transferability: the college community believed that PCC has a responsibility to make transferring as seamless as possible, and if pedagogically sound, a switch to 4-credits would only facilitate students transferring to their 4-year schools-and in many cases, save students money. The committee heard numerous examples of students who were 1 or 2 credits short for junior-year status and needed to take additional courses to catch up. In addition, the committee discovered a state-wide de-emphasis on sequences creating a scenario where a greater number of students were not completing sequences, and that 2 4-credit sequence courses would be far more beneficial to students than 2 3-credit sequence courses. Students would also be more likely to complete a 2 4-credit sequence.

Faculty-student contact benefit: the committee strongly believes, along with faculty across the district, that because faculty would have about 20% fewer students, then students would benefit enormously from increased contact between faculty and students. The committee did assume that fewer students would mean more faculty time for students, and largely based this assumption on 1) faculty concerns about current workload and student success, and 2) faculty imagining their professional lives in a conversion scenario that meant fewer students. This increase in contact-both in and outside of class-time- could have a profound effect on retention and student success. Further, the committee recognized that a reduction in the number of students would likely mean more time for assessing and responding to student work, as well as more time to develop innovative curriculum, which would also increase the cohesiveness of a students education.

Textbooks: students would experience greater depth and/or breadth with their textbooks, which are very expensive and underutilized because of their semester-based format. The majority of students would be taking fewer courses, so they would need fewer texts per term, and this would help alleviate at least some financial burdens-especially given the prices of some texts.

Curriculum improvement: faculty on the committee determined that the conversion would bring opportunities for curriculum enrichment and innovative experimentation (such as hybrid courses using WebCT and other online technology).

Attracting PSU students: the committee felt that PCC might, due to our lower costs, attract more PSU students under a 4-credit scenario.

Scheduling: some faculty saw an opportunity for improved scheduling consistency around the district, where there might be more MW-TTH courses and Fridays left open for block courses, conferencing, office hours, and grading/course prep work.

Concerns about a 4-Credit Conversion

Although faculty throughout the district embraced the concept of our general education transfer-level courses moving to 4-credits, they also expressed a number of concerns:

Faculty load: faculty underscored our committees insistence that course load be configured in a manner favorable to faculty.

Class size: faculty wanted to be certain class size did not rise with any conversion.

4-hour block courses: faculty expressed a strong desire that there be alternatives to the 4-hour block class (night courses in particular). Other colleges are offering their 4-hour classes in a number of different configurations including blocks of two hours and hybrid courses.

Part-time faculty: while there would be fewer courses overall for part-time faculty, the committee (and faculty in general) wanted the union to be aware of any potential inequities in part-time work and compensation. Some committee members, as well as faculty in the SACs and forums, felt that this issue needed further study.

Professional/Technical programs: there was universal concern from faculty in the professional-technical programs that a conversion of the transfer courses would affect their programs due to the limited number of courses their students can take. The committee is in the process of learning how other community colleges avoided any negative impact on these programs.

Reduction in course offerings: faculty on each campus, and in our committee, voiced concern that students would take fewer classes to meet their Gen Ed transfer requirements if we converted to 4-credits, and would therefore be exposed to fewer courses-particularly upper-level electives that faculty believe are essential to PCCs mission to provide a liberal arts foundation for our students. Even though the counter argument can be offered that students would experience greater breadth and depth in those new 4-credit courses, this is one of the most significant drawbacks cited by faculty.

Student cost: faculty wanted to be certain that a switch to 4-credits did not mean increased costs to students. Although not conclusive, the committee determined the vast majority of our students would not have any cost increase. The students who might be negatively impacted would be the casual students taking one or two classes without accumulating credits for a degree or certificate. The committee decided that this issue needed further study to determine the extent of the negative impact on casual students.

Summer courses: some faculty were uncomfortable with the notion of 4-credit courses offered over 8 weeks, but others pointed out that courses can be offered over 11 weeks, and that we currently have 4- and 5-credit math and science courses offered over 8 weeks.

Students in a sequence: faculty and students were concerned about what would happen to those students who were in sequences during a conversion. The committee decided to investigate this scenario and see what has happened at other colleges.

Mandatory conversion: faculty were concerned that if the EAC embraced a 4-credit switch it would mean that SACs would be forced to change their courses from 3 to 4 credits.

Scheduling and facilities: There was some worry about whether PCC would have the space to accommodate 4-hour courses, and the committee determined that this wouldnt be an issue due to 1)fewer courses being offered, 2)more classrooms available with the construction expansion, 3)others colleges not experiencing problems with this issue.

Faculty involvement in 4-credit conversion: in the 4-credit committee, the EAC deliberations, as well as the broader faculty discussions, there was very clear consensus that faculty must remain actively involved in the continued process of investigating and implementing a 4-credit conversion.

Committee Recommendations

    The committee believes that 1) it is in the best interest of students to move ahead with further study of the 4-credit conversion, and assuming the EAC and administration are in agreement after important questions have been answered to our mutual satisfaction, that 2) the college should target fall of 2005 to begin offering these new 4-credit courses.

    In order for this goal to be met, and if the EAC agrees that further study is warranted, the committee recommends that the following work be accomplished this summer:

  1. To determine the financial impact of conversion on the college.
     
  2. To determine the impact on student enrollment and student access (including financial aid), particularly regarding the following student populations: ENL, DE, high-school completion, marginally prepared, evening, part-time degree-seeking, and casual students.
     
  3. To determine the impact on part-time faculty.
     
  4. To determine the impact on facilities.
     
  5. To begin discussions within the EAC to determine general education and distribution requirements. The 4-credit committee recommends that this process be completed by fall of 2004.
     
  6. To begin discussions within the EAC to create an expedited recommendation process for courses affected by this conversion.
     
  7. To begin dialogue with professional-technical programs to ensure that the 4-credit conversion has a minimum negative impact on their programs.
     
  8. To retain the 4-Credit Committee to continue its exploration and fact-finding regarding conversion particulars (continuing discussions with PSU, Lane, and Clackamas, for example) to help ease the transition.
     
  9. To include the chairs of the EAC and 4-credit committee in the administrative deliberations regarding the possible conversion.
     
  10. To investigate the concern regarding how fewer courses will impact our degrees.
     
  11. To determine fair and equitable compensation for faculty who are reconfiguring courses targeted for conversion in the fall of 2005.
     
  12. To receive a strong commitment from the administration that, upon agreement between the EAC and the administration to implement a 4-credit conversion, there will not be a reversal of our decision to move forward. This will help alleviate faculty worries that work begun on converting courses could be scuttled (as occurred a decade ago with semester conversion work).
Final Recommendations

The committee recommends that if the EAC and the administration are in agreement regarding the conversion of our 3-credit general education transfer courses to 4 credits- and the above work is completed over the summer-that the two work closely together to ensure smooth implementation and minimum disruption for students and faculty.

Because of the importance of easing transferability for our students, we recommend that all SACs offering general education transfer courses move to 4-credits, but that there be a curricular mechanism allowing SACs the opportunity to keep particular courses at 3 credits.

Further, the committee recommends that the EAC have final approval of the plan to convert before implementation begins.

The 4-Credit Conversion Committee:

Susan Wilson, Cascade, Academic Advising
Nancy Wilder, Cascade, Business
Linda Warwick, Sylvania, English
Joel Magnuson, Rock Creek, Economics
Stedman Burroughs, Rock Creek, Academic Advising
Frank Goulard, Sylvania, Math
Jan Abushakrah, Sylvania, Sociology
Jill Severson, Cascade, Student--ASPCC
Karen Jolly, Sylvania, CAS and EAC Chair
Kate Dins, Cascade, Division Dean, Business and Government
Scott Huff, Sylvania, Interim Dean of Instruction
Guy Sievert, Vice President, Academic Affairs
Frost Johnson, Enrollment Services
Porter Raper, Cascade, English and Committee Chair

 

Committee Chair 2005-2006: Porter Raper

Historical Information