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New Credit Requirements

The news, said junior Alicia Zheng, elicited screams of joy.

Zheng’s advisor had just informed the Communication Studies and Asian American Studies double-major that the School of Communication was reducing the number of credits required of her to graduate.

No more four-class quarters. No more rushing through assignments to fit it all in. No more constantly playing catch-up. Zheng said she felt a burden was lifted.

“My best quarter at Northwestern, both academically and mentally/emotionally, has been the one Winter quarter I took three classes instead of four,” she said. “I was able to engage much more deeply with the texts, absorb the things discussed in class, and invest myself into learning and internalizing the concepts presented.”

“It’s so great to finally see a school prioritize their students’ mental health over the rigorous academic schedule,” she added.

The School of Communication announced that it has reduced the number of course credits required of undergraduates to earn a degree. Students will now earn a minimum of 42 credits to receive a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree from the School, a reduction of three credits from the former requirement of 45 credits.

The new requirements apply immediately to all sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Any student can continue to take four courses per quarter if he/she wishes.

The change comes in response to University recommendations to allow for a more manageable academic experience through a reduction in the credit requirement. The reduction was recommended based on a comprehensive 2015 study of student workloads, related stress levels, adjustments to the quarter system, advising, and more. The School of Communication is among the first schools to adopt the recommended requirement changes.

The SoC’s adjustments were proposed last spring after considering the students’ reported levels of stress, as outlined in the report, as well as their increasingly multidisciplinary approach to class selection and the desire for more flexibility to pursue innovative curricular offerings. The new formula comprises 12 major requirements, 12 electives, and 18 distribution courses for a total of 42 credits. School of Communication students have been notified of the change, which is effective immediately.

“Our School had a great opportunity to reduce the credits required for our undergraduate degrees because the five departments had—quite independently of the Task Force Report— proposed eliminating three required School of Communication courses, said Barbara O’Keefe, Dean of the School of Communication. “These three internal “distribution” requirements were viewed as out-of-step with our new approach to helping students work in interdisciplinary study across the school.”

“But instead of simply eliminating those required courses, we went on to reduce the number of credits required for the degree as well,” O’Keefe added. “It was a painless way to achieve the goal set for us by the Undergraduate Task Force while we updated our major requirements.”

The School of Communication majors are: Human Communication Sciences, Communication Studies, Radio/Television/Film, Performance Studies, Theatre, and Dance.

“In reviewing the existing major requirements, the Theatre faculty identified several requirements that did not contribute to the core experience of the major,” said Harvey Young, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “We determined that a modest adjustment of requirements would strengthen the integrity of the majors in dance and theatre and, at the same, reduce student stress.” 

For Human Communication Sciences majors, for example, the change will mean more time for not only co-curricular involvement, but research, says Sumit Dhar, chair of the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

“The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is modifying the HCS major requirements to strengthen both the breadth and depth of students’ knowledge in the field while maintaining the flexibility in course selection that students already find so attractive,” he added.

The survey conducted by the Faculty Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Experience in 2015 revealed, among other issues, a strong concern that 45-credit requirement was affecting students’ mental and physical health. The original structure mandated that students would be juggling some four- or even five-class quarters, depending on individual obligations. These larger course loads were proving to be too difficult to manage, especially given the out-of-class demands most School of Communication students face.

But School administrators have additionally found that the growth of the modular curriculum and students expanding interests have rendered outside-major SoC requirements unnecessary. Lowering the number of required courses opens up many more doors for education outside of the classroom.

“Theatre and dance majors are actively involved in an array of extracurricular and co-curricular activities,” Young said. “The requirement change creates space in students’ schedules for these activities. It recognizes the value of experiential learning as well as being a part of a social, campus community.” 

Part of this experiential learning is demonstrated in the School’s modular curriculum, which gives SoC majors more depth and focus in their studies. Modules fuse in- and out-of-class learning through clusters of courses, co-curricular activities, internships, close faculty and alumni advisement, and a capstone project. The 16 established modules include Acting (or Directing) for the Screen; Children and Communication; Health Communication; Sound Cultures; and, new this fall, Comedy Arts. The lighter requirement load would enable more students to pursue modules and advance their chosen area of expertise.

“This change means that I can take some classes that I originally would not have had the opportunity to take,” said Eric Mertz, a junior double-major in Theatre and Computer Science. “I think that a lot of SoC students will be super happy about this because most of the work we do for our majors occurs outside of class, and so having less ‘actual’ class time would be beneficial to put in work toward other things that are crucial to getting an education in an artistic field like Theatre or RTVF.”