Even as Eastern considers the switch from a 3×5 credit scheme to a 4×4 credit scheme, other similarly sized schools have made the move in the other direction.
Eastern Nazarene College and Whitworth College, both small Christian liberal arts colleges, have recently switched from 4×4 to 3×5.
According to Rick Stephens, dean at ENC, “That [switch] gave us a fair amount of flexibility that we didn’t have under the previous system.”
Under the 3×5 credit system, which Eastern currently uses, students are expected to take, on average, five courses per semester, worth three credits each. Under the 4×4 system, the expected number of courses would drop to four per semester, but the credit value of each course would increase.
According to Stephens, the way the 4×4 credit scheme had developed at ENC over the course of 30 years was inflexible.
ENC switched to the 4×4 credit scheme in the 1960s, and only began considering a change to 3×5 in the 1999-2000 school year.
Stephens, who came to ENC in 2001, said, “We looked very thoroughly at keeping things as they were as well as changing.”
Flexibility of students’ schedules, the size of general education requirements, the ease with which transfers could complete their degrees and opportunities for internship, practicum and study abroad experiences all figured into ENC’s eventual decision to switch to the 3×5 scheme, according to Stephens.
The advantages of the 4×4 system include more class time and fewer classes, allowing professors and students to go more in-depth with the material. In addition, the system allows professors to teach fewer classes, giving them an opportunity to pursue more research and to give more time to the classes they are teaching.
According to David Greenhalgh, dean of arts and sciences at Eastern, Whitworth’s switch was not motivated by curriculum as much as by finances.
“I think they were on the 3×5 and then they switched to 4×4 and then they switched back and now they’re regretting it,” Greenhalgh said.
Representatives from Whitworth could not be reached by press time.
Stephens made it clear that there is a trade-off in switching from 4×4 to 3×5.
“Every time you lose a class period opportunity with a student, that’s a loss there… it takes a little while to right the ship,” Stephens said. “I wouldn’t say that going to a class 3 times a week for 3 hours is equal to going to a class 4 times a week for 4 hours… but other things balance it out.”