David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Falling Forward

November 1, 2017

As we enter November, it is a cruel reminder that we have to set our clocks back from Daylight Saving Time this weekend.  Most people think Daylight Saving Time is a stupid idea, especially when we Spring Forward, but almost irrationally then miss it when we have to Fall back in November.  The history of this strange attempt by man to modulate our physical environment is recounted routinely in March and November as we approach clock-changing time.  For example, The Palm Beach Post this week questions the often held belief that DST was developed to support farming.

However, since policies and laws based on sketchy evidence can produce Daylight Saving Time, I propose that it is time for higher education to take advantage of similar thinking to impose our own adjustments to our clock hours -- the infamous credit hour.

You would think that a bunch of smart people, such as academics, could simply state what a credit hour means.  It must be an hour of time, right?  Not so fast, my friend.  We must calculate clock hours for the amount of time students spend in a class and working on a class to meet a credit hour.  I am not sure I can say it simpler when the Higher Learning Commission, to pick on one regional accreditor, requires an 11-page worksheet be filled out that clarifies how an institution defines clock hours per credit hour.  (If you are a masochist, you can see the form by clicking on the link here that says "Worksheet on the Assignment of Credit Hours and Clock Hours.")

I have lamented the credit hour before with "The Freewheelin' Credit Hour," but today I am really interested in seeing if we can take the logic of DST and apply it CST (Credit Saving Time).  Hear me out.

Colleges and universities are constantly being hammered on retention and completion rates (an offshoot of the bigger criticism about tuition costs).  Students aren't completing their degrees in quick enough time, which is either a result of them leaving the institution (not being retained) or not taking enough credits to complete their degree in a government-determined appropriate amount of time (3 years for an associate degree, 6 years for a bachelor degree--ironically, the government has never identified the applicable amount of time for a doctorate degree, a universe where students can often get lost for over a decade).

As a general rule, many institutions see common patterns especially among freshman students.  Students are all eager and excited in their first Fall semester, but may have challenges with the transition from high school classes to college classes -- or to be more accurate, between the structure of high school and the lack of structure of college, the latter of which appeals, in the wrong ways, to their immaturity (not using the term in a pejorative sense, just referencing a clinical term about mental and physical development).  So, they develop bad habits and finish their Fall semester weakly, perhaps passing all of their classes, but not with stellar grades.  Then Spring semesters come (many institutions try to trick all involved with calling classes that run from January through April as Spring classes, even though they exist predominantly in the winter months).  Inevitably, many students burn out by the end of Spring, getting kicked out of the college because their 2.00 GPA after Fall has turned into an unacceptable 1.75 cumulative GPA after Spring. Or, if they squeaked out a better-than-2.0 cumulative GPA, summer comes, they have no interest in taking classes, and find work or home to be acceptable alternatives and never return.

Since most colleges and universities deal with this pattern, I propose CST (Credit Saving Time), a way that allows students to fall forward in the Fall semester--i.e., fall into Spring semester with a little bit of momentum--and then spring back at the end of Spring to the eager, excited, yet more mature student they were at the beginning of their Freshman year.

Allow me to explain by using a little math.  If you need remedial math, don't worry.  I represent the group of people that made clock hours so complex for credit hours.  Everyone in our world needs remedial math.

At the beginning of November, every freshman student should earn, by still being in classes, an extra credit hour.  They receive an "A" and gain a temporary boost to their GPA.  This is not insignificant.  A student taking 15 credit hours and earning "C's" in all of their classes ends up with a 2.00 GPA; with this additional 1-credit hour "A," he or she will have a semester ending 2.125 GPA with the gaining of this hour.  This is similar to the artificial boost DST gives to outdoor activities in the evening.

Then, with that added "I can do it" attitude that comes from the higher GPA, the students will be much more confident and optimistic going into Spring.  However, in early April, that extra credit hour will disappear and their GPA for their first year will be restored, negatively, but barely noticeable. The student who took 30 credits over the year earning "C's" in all of their classes would move from a potential 2.06 with the "free credit" to a 2.00 with it removed.

Yale, Harvard, Duke, Northwestern, feel free to use the Arizona/Hawaii rule, which is that you don't have to participate because the issues of the Saving Time system aren't relevant to your situations.

Wouldn't work, you say? O.k., so maybe this isn't a perfect system.  Cows don't adjust their milking schedule when we spring forward, students may not adjust when we fall forward. 

As with Daylight Saving Time, it's all about the perceived effects of Credit Saving Time.  Just give me a few hours (a unit of time I still need to define) to determine the clock hours associated with this credit hour.  As Jackopierce sing, "I still believe these are our finest hours."