The semester just got a little longer.
Concordia College faculty are now required to utilize the finals period as a part of new federal law that defines a credit hour and its corresponding seat time.
High default rates on guaranteed student loan money and Pell grants by students attending online schools led to this regulation, according to Mark Krejci, dean of the college.
Concordia faces this requirement because of the policy that counts finals time as part of the academic semester. Consequently, the finals period must be included if a class is to be considered a full four credits.
Next year, when Concordia is up for reaccreditation, classes will be examined to ensure that work load and seat time levels are being met. The law requires two hours of coursework be assigned for each hour in class. Although Krejci acknowledged that this last element will be impossible to enforce.
“The credit model and the credit hour [were] generally defined by the Carnegie Foundation, and that’s been historical…and there’s this range,” Krejci said.
Prior to this new regulation, it was not outside of the general credit definition if a faculty member elected to not hold finals, even though the faculty handbook required that the finals period be utilized.
Faculty members were informed last year of this change in federal regulation.
“We just wanted to make sure everyone knew that…it’s out of our hands,” Krejci said.
The English department is one place on campus that has to adapt to the new regulations.
“Where it changes our work a little bit is the IWC program,” said Jonathan Steinwand, professor and chair of the department.
The class requires a portfolio to be turned in on the last class day, and the final time was used as seen fit. The main reason for this was to have time available to follow up with students that potentially did not turn in their portfolio. This will likely change now, he said.
“Our compliance rate has been pretty good so now we can imagine shifting that to be due during the final exam time,” he said.
Some faculty members however, gave their students the opportunity to revise their portfolio. They will have to adjust, because the new timeline will create a grading crunch otherwise.
The English department resultantly made a decision to have all faculty make better use of the final exam time to keep in compliance with the federal regulations.
“I don’t think it’s going to mean we suddenly switch and invent exams where we don’t see exams being appropriate,” Steinwand said.
One thing Steinwand would like to use is what he called a “college level show and tell.” Beyond using it as an opportunity to turn in a portfolio, he envisions having the students share something from their portfolio about what they have learned over the semester.
Another element significantly influenced by these new regulations are night classes. Their seat time is considerably lower than a Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday class: 2340 minutes per semester versus 2940 for Monday-Wednesday-Friday and 2800 for Tuesday-Thursday.
“All of those are suppose to fulfill the same…learning outcomes as each other in that amount of time,” Steinwand said.
The faculty senate debated adding an extra 30 minutes to the three-hour class periods.
“A three-hour block is a marathon already, and adding that extra 30 minutes would be a big deal and would not necessarily produce any more learning,” he said.
Steinwand advocated adding an extra week of classes, which would correspond to one three-hour period, however the Faculty Senate decided to keep the classes as is, but instructed professors to be prepared to prove that the learning and work load is comparable to day classes.
Students may wonder, then, how a cancelled class figures in to meeting credit hour requirements. Krejci said the handbook allows faculty to cancel class if they are ill. If they miss class for another reason, such as attending a professional conference, they are supposed to make up that time in some way, either by providing guest speakers or giving additional assignments.
Students, Krejci added, are not required to make up time if they miss a class period.
“We just have to show that we have the requisite amount of seat time for the students who show up,” he said.
Neither Krejci nor Steinwand envisions the new policy disadvantaging students in anyway.
Rebekah Mann, French education major, feels a little differently. For her, being able to maximize her time at home with her family is important. She is from Missouri and has five nephews that live near her home.
“I want to be there when my nephews are growing up. I want to be around them and help them. I want to be a role model in their lives,” she said.
While she does not fly home anymore, the flexibility available in the past was useful for arranging flights. Now, if her course finals are scheduled for later in the week, she would be unable to leave for home.
Whether students like it or not, there will be differences in this year’s finals schedule.
“I don’t think it’s a big change,” said Steinwand. “Except to keep students here for final exams might be a slight change of culture.”
Thea Gessler, 2014, is a news writer for The Concordian. Hailing from Ely, Minn., Thea is a Biology major and Religion minor. In her free time she enjoys gardening, cooking, and Nordic skiing.