Change from 3-hour to 4-hour credit classes at Elon

Pam Richter – Class of 2011
Nov. 5, 2009

Sitting in class for an hour and forty minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays may seem like a daunting task for some students. What many students may not realize is that class times weren’t always this long.


A description from the Elon College Academic Catalog in 1994-1995, which was the first year the curriculum was changed.

In the fall of 1994, Elon College changed from a three-hour credit system to a four-hour credit system after the faculty voted on the change in April 1993. This change was in conjunction with the new General Studies program that was taking place at the time. Some educational departments were forced to rework their entire curriculum, where as others weren’t as drastically impacted by the change.

According to the Nov. 18, 1993 edition of The Pendulum, “Assessment Day,” was held on March 3, 1994, which gave students the opportunity to learn about the transition in the curriculum and meet with their advisers.

With this change, students were expected to take one less course per semester, meaning that students had to take three or four classes per semester, compared to five or six under the old system. The trade-off was that students were in classes for a little bit longer.

The faculty benefited from this change as well. The number of classes they had to teach was reduced and it was supposed to give faculty ability to go more in-depth in certain subjects.


10 thoughts on “Change from 3-hour to 4-hour credit classes at Elon

  1. Since the students were supposed to take fewer courses each semester, they would presumably not be able to explore the curriculum as widely as they could before the change. Was there a negative effect on enrollments in disciplines that were not the students’ primary interest, such as foreign languages, philosophy, math, etc.?

    We’re looking at making a change from primarily 3- to 4-credit courses at Mount Union College, and two disadvantages that seem apparent to some of us are loss of choice (and flexibility) for students and loss of enrollments for some disciplines.

    Any thoughts?

    Frank Triplett
    Professor of French
    Mount Union College

  2. Hi,

    I am from UMass Boston and we are considering a similar conversion. Do you know of any other institutions who have done so? Also, we are looking for any information on the outcomes of this switch – do you know if there has been any assessment done in this area? Any resources you could provide would be helpful. Thank you.

    Kim Puhala
    Research Fellow
    UMass Boston

    • Mary Beth,

      Thanks for your comment on our blog, Under the Oaks. I had a faculty member respond to other inquires about this blog post, since they were at Elon during the time of the conversion. I have pasted the faculty member’s response below. Please feel free to respond directly to George Troxler ( if you have further questions.

      Katie Nash, our University Archivist, asked me to respond to the questions you raised concerning our shift from 3 – 4 hour credit courses.

      I am a member of the history faculty, and was teaching only one course per semester at the time of the change with released time for what eventually became a full time administrative position. I’m now on sabbatical researching the university’s history and on the way to retirement.

      The key person in this transition at Elon who you might contact is Dr. Gerry Francis who was then Provost and Senior Vice President. He is now our Executive Vice President. I am sure Gerry would be glad to respond to any questions you might have.

      The potential disadvantages which you have noted have not been a problem because of a couple of factors. Departments were not allowed to increase the number of hours required in the major, and the number of hours required in the core curriculum was not increased leaving students the same number of hours for electives. Yes, the students may be taking less elective courses, but if a student takes a history or French course as an elective they are taking a four hour course. If we have 25% fewer non-majors taking elective courses in our department those students are generating the same number of credit hours (fewer elective courses but hopefully greater depth). I don’t believe any department has suffered losses as a result of the change.

      Although I was not enthusiastic about the shift at the time, I’m convinced now that the change was wise. It has brought about more interactive learning, a greater variety of learning styles, and enabled us to offer more challenging courses. While contact hours have not changed, faculty teach a reduced number of students per-semester—we teach 3 courses instead of four with no change in class size. I believe this benefits both faculty and students. Re-structuring my individual courses took some time and effort, but once accomplished I think the courses were improved.

  3. I am in a workshop about this 3 to 4 hour change at my college.

    I am open, but skeptical, possibly because if you have change to a four-hour system, you have to identify a critical mass of things that are wrong or not working with the three-hour system.

    Anyone: What was “wrong” with the three hour system at your school? Was the four-hour change a good move, a good fix?


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