Give us more credit

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s because of your major, or merely general education requirements, you’ve found yourself in a lab. Not only are you responsible for keeping up with the rest of your courses, but you also need to block out an extra three hours from one of your weekdays to account for your lab.

There’s no question that lab courses are helpful. They provide a hands-on experience for students to truly connect what they’ve learned in class to a real-world setting. In some cases, when the student does well in their lab, it might even help boost their final grade in their lecture class. However, there is an ever-present issue involving the lack of credit students receive for their lab classes.

According to the 2020-2021 FMU course catalog, a credit hour (also known as a semester hour) is “one class hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction per week and an expectation of at least two hours of out-of-class student work each week.” Essentially, for every hour spent in class, you should spend two hours doing homework or studying.

Currently, lectures in the sciences are assigned four credit hours, a step up from the usual three credits of the average course, with labs tacked onto them at zero credit hours, as it is understood that they will be taken together.

From a surface-level standpoint, it would make sense that a lab requiring three extra hours per week would count toward three credit hours. However, not everything is so cut and dry. It’s worth investigating to see if lab classes also fill the second condition of the definition concerning how much time students spend outside of class.

As it turns out, aside from the time spent studying for labs and lectures, students are almost always required to write reports and complete homework for their labs assigned independently from their lecture course. Though both classes cover the same topics, they have completely different assignments, which creates much more than the two hours of work that would justify just one credit.

It’s worth mentioning that the course catalog does have a section that defines a lab class as “a minimum of two-three class hours of work each week and an expectation of at least one hour of additional out-of-class student work each week.”  As we can see, the catalog seems to have underestimated the time required outside of labs. While this doesn’t necessarily change the issue, it was worth acknowledging before moving forward.

Also, for students entering the sciences, such as biology, chemistry and physics, their majors are heavily based around these lab classes. While it’s not ideal to receive one credit for an entry-level lab course, once you move toward the upper-level courses, the work becomes significantly more time-consuming, and yet the same single credit hour is assigned.

At the heart of it all, students want to feel like their time was well spent. While I don’t expect the FMU administration to assign three credit hours to lab classes immediately, I think it would be helpful to move toward making them worth two credits instead of one.

Of course, there are always variables to consider. Sometimes labs let students out early, and homework volume varies from time to time. But at their most uneventful, they are still worth more than one credit.