By: McKinsey Skeens
Dean Amy-Jessen Marshall recently hosted several Curriculum Conversations for the general student body, to inform the campus on proposed updates to Sweet Briar’s academic structure. These meetings were held in combination with the Academic Planning Committee (APC), which is a body comprised of faculty members whose roles are defined in Sweet Briar’s Strategic Plan as “[making] recommendations regarding the allocations, creation, or termination of instructional positions and academic programs in light of long-term academic plans, priorities and directions.”
One of the largest changes being proposed by the Dean’s Office and the APC is a move away from the three credit course system that is currently being offered, to a four credit system. The intent of this proposed change would be to reduce the overall amount of courses that student’s would be taking in an academic year.
In order to graduate, Sweet Briar currently requires students to take a total of 120 credits during their four years at the College. The four-credit system would potentially reduce the overall credit requirement, allowing students to take fewer classes a semester. Essentially, instead of taking an average of five courses a semester, students would be able to take four, while still graduating on time. A reduction of the total credit hours required is intended to alleviate how spread out student’s are academically and provide them with a better opportunity to focus more in depth on their class subjects.
In addition to reducing the amount of classes per semester, the four credit system would help increase class sizes. Currently Sweet Briar maintains a 6:1 student to teacher ratio. The proposed changes would help bring that ratio up to 10:1, which is the present goal of the Strategic Plan and the Dean’s Office. An increase in class size would be a reflection of an overall boost in student enrollment and an increase in retention. Thus, the increase in class sizes is intended to help create a greater sense of overall financial stability within the College; however alumna donations and the amount within the endowment fund would still need to be continuously built upon for financial security.
An additional change being proposed is the reduction or combination of some of the academic programs currently offered. Smaller programs and programs perceived as having less appeal to incoming students have the potential to be removed or combined with an additional department. While department size will not be the only factor in these decisions, the Dean’s Office and the APC will be looking at the practicality of certain majors in the job market. As a liberal arts college, Sweet Briar will continue to offer a diverse range of majors and minors, however there is a strong potential that certain departments will be significantly modified or removed as a major.
Academic Affairs Chair Stephanie Prato ’12 made the following comments regarding the potential changes, “I think it’s important to remember that sometimes change is necessary. I have every confidence that the faculty and the Dean will work together to shape a curriculum that both is academically excellent and financially sustainable. We are still very much in the ‘discussion’ stage and I think it’s great that students have been given the opportunity to add their voices to the conversation, before any decisions have been made. I encourage all students to attend future discussions and to use the Academic Affairs Committee as liaison to get their questions answered.”
No changes have been officially been made or decided upon, however Dean Jessen-Marshall and the APC are hoping to get constructive feedback from student’s on the proposed academic changes. If you have concerns about any of the suggested changes, please contact the student members of the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information regarding Sweet Briar’s strategic plan, please visit http://sbc.edu/strategic-plan.
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