Editorial: Ease up credit requirements, help students find balance

With the School of Communication’s decision to reduce the required number of credits to graduate, the school’s leadership acknowledged this month something students already knew: When it comes to academic requirements, sometimes less is more.

Not only do we applaud the School of Communication’s move, which should create greater academic flexibility and reduce stress for its students, we also recommend Northwestern’s five other undergraduate schools follow its lead.

A reduction in credit requirements will encourage in-depth study, promote mental health and generally improve the undergraduate experience at NU. Further, it will pull the university closer in line with other schools on the quarter system such as University of Chicago, Dartmouth and Stanford, where an average of three or four classes is the standard.

NU’s four-class-per-quarter norm is compacted by a pre-professional atmosphere that encourages many students to take on extracurricular roles amounting to part-time jobs. The intersection of commitments helps produce our generally high-stress environment. Though it may escape administrators whose focus is solely academic, much of our learning here happens outside the classroom. Loosening credit requirements is one way administrators can return some agency to overwhelmed students.

It also acknowledges other realities, such as the fact that the University’s credit requirements do not affect all students equally. Some more affluent students arrive with credit from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam scores. Other students who do not have the financial means to take AP or IB exams are the most tightly squeezed by the current graduation requirements. As long as schools continue to take credit earned prior to enrollment, reducing total required credits could help level an uneven playing field.

Above all, in our culture of stress, this change could play a small part in promoting mental health on campus. Sure, not all students would take advantage of the change, continuing to overbook themselves. But added flexibility could hardly hurt. And its simultaneous academic benefits would make our campus a better learning environment.

In the classroom, students should be engaging deeply in subjects they care about. Outside the classroom, students should have room to explore non-academic interests and to maybe, just for once, actually do their class readings.

As University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily in an interview last week, “If people took three courses, they would be a little bit more relaxed. They could devote themselves more to extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and I think it would improve their mental health. I really do believe that.”

We do too.

And at a university where mental health and overcommitment are persistent issues, NU’s six undergraduate schools have an opportunity to be part of the solution. All should consider the potential benefit of reducing course requirements and should do so now.

This piece represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of The Daily Northwestern. The Editorial Board has an “Editorial Corps” responsible for selecting and producing editorials with feedback from the rest of the board. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members or Editorial Board members of The Daily Northwestern.