By Brianna Gleghorn
Youngstown State University’s Academic Senate approved a change to all major requirements during a meeting Dec. 4, 2019, requiring students to complete at least 39 upper-division credit hours instead of the previous 48 credit hour minimum.
Gary Walker, chair of the Academic Standards Committee and professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, said the change was brought to his committee’s attention several years ago but was not approved.
“We considered it, but we voted not to change that at that point,” he said. “Then somebody wanted us to reconsider it and bring it to the board.”
Adam Earnheardt, chair of the Department of Communication, said he proposed lowering the upper-division credit requirement to the Academic Senate several years ago.
“We’ve been at this for two and a half years,” he said. “My initial proposal was to lower this to 39 hours from 48 hours, and it was just basically in line with everything that we saw across the state.”
When the amount of credit hours required for a major was lowered to 120, no other credit hour requirements were altered, according to Earnheardt.
“We were reducing the number of overall hours required for a degree at YSU from 124 to 120,” he said. “Then nothing else, we didn’t change anything else. We just changed that.”
Walker said YSU has one of the highest upper-division credit hour requirements among Ohio universities.
“When we studied it around the state, we found some universities don’t have a universitywide limit or minimum,” he said. “They leave it up to the colleges and the programs. We’ve discovered that YSU’s 48-hour upper-division [minimum] was the highest.”
According to Kent State University’s website, “baccalaureate programs require the successful completion of minimum 39 upper-division credit hours of coursework.”
Earnheardt said this approach is common at universities across Ohio.
“If we look across [Ohio], most of the universities are letting their own programs or departments decide for themselves what the upper-division hour requirements should be in their programs,” he said.
In Walker’s opinion, the minimum can be a hurdle students face when completing their major.
“[Students] have plenty of total hours, they satisfied their degree requirements, including the upper-division of the degree, but this was piling more upper-division credits on just to graduate,” he said.
Earnheardt said programs and curriculum for each department are disparate.
“They’re trying to create this one-size-fits-all with programs with upper-division hours,” he said. “So it might be easier for some programs to meet the standard upper-division hour requirement than others.”
Earnheardt said he witnesses students still not meeting the upper-division requirement after completing every course required for a major.
“We have students who are struggling in some cases to meet that,” he said. “We get a lot of students transfer to us from other programs, and when they get to their senior year, they’re struggling to meet that 48-hour requirement.”
During the Dec. 4 Academic Senate meeting, a second proposal, which has not been approved yet, was initiated to allow programs and departments at YSU to set their own requirements.
“Why not let programs decide for themselves what that should be?” Earnheardt said. “Then, they’re the best arbiters for what their students need, for what their program should be, and that just made the most sense.”
Jacob Labendz, an academic senator and assistant professor of Judaic and Holocaust studies, said having a minimum requirement is important for quality education.
“Coming out of Youngstown State should mean that you’ve been asked to and succeeded in digging deep into a wide range of topics and ideas invested with materials at a significantly high level,” he said.
According to Labendz, the purpose of upper-division courses is to enhance students’ knowledge of their field at a higher level.
“It’s fundamental to what we do here,” he said. “We’re teaching certain levels of expertise, discipline specific. But also, more broadly, it’s about cultivating an advanced learner.”
The upper-division credit hour decrease will take effect at the start of the 2020 fall semester.