The liberal arts on 16 credit hours

As many students know, here at Hope College, there is a 16 credit maximum per semester. If students choose to take more than 16 credits, they have to pay over $500 per additional credit. For students who are enrolled in credit-heavy majors, attempting to “explore their options” or simply looking to get gen-eds out of the way, paying an extra $1,500 per semester is virtually inevitable. Our current administration is supposedly all about making college more affordable for students, so why not start with the most basic way to do so? By allowing students to take more than 16 credits per semester with no extra charge – either by raising the maximum credit amount or allowing students to request permission to take more – the average Hope College student could save upwards of $12,000 in their four years at this institution.

There are plenty of colleges and universities that, similarly to Hope, operate on a four credit system while simultaneously allowing their students to enroll in more than 16 credits per semester. For example, at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, NH, students are allowed to take 20 credits per semester with no extra cost, and, if for some reason 20 credits is not enough, students are allowed to petition for a higher credit load. At UNH, along with most post-secondary institutions, semesters are normally 14 to 15 weeks, which is about two weeks fewer than Hope’s average semester length. So, while 20 credits per semester may sound like an outrageous amount compared to our 16 credit system, many students are able to successfully complete 20 credits in less time than it takes us to complete 16. 

Additionally, students at Hope are already paying nearly $37,000 a year for tuition, nevermind the cost of room, board and extra expenses. Many of us are aspiring to have multiple majors and minors in order to take full advantage of our liberal arts institution, but we are forced to take around 52 credits in general education courses to earn a degree. With a 16 credit maximum, completing the general education requirements will take the average student just over three semesters – almost half of our time spent here at Hope. While some gen-eds can translate into major or minor requirements, and there is the option to transfer AP/IB credits, it’s often difficult to fit general education courses and desired major/minor courses into this system. 

For example, at around a 77 credit requirement, Hope’s Engineering major is one of the highest credit majors on campus. Along with the 52 general education credits each student is required to complete, engineering students – with no extra minor(s) – have to complete 129 credits to graduate. Across eight semesters, graduating with 129 credit hours under one’s belt means taking 16.125 credits per semester. This does not include any added minors or concentrations. Engineering students at Hope, and many others, will inevitably have to enroll in more than 16 credits per semester.

For me, to graduate with a Bachelors of Social Work, I have to complete 66 credits for my major alone. I enrolled at Hope this year intending to pursue a multi-faceted education, knowing that Hope, as a liberal arts college, would be a great place to do so. When I realized that the social work program was the best fit for me and my long term occupational goals, I also realized that I would probably have to sacrifice my goals to complete a studio art and Spanish double minor because I simply can’t pay thousands of dollars extra to do so. While it’s definitely possible to pursue these goals, it became unfeasible because of the cost. I would have to take extra courses in the summertime or pay more than $500 for every extra credit taken in any given semester. I know that a lot of students face similar dilemmas, and I know that there are ways to prevent them from happening. 

No matter what reasoning Hope College has for its 16 credit maximum, there is also a reason for its reevaluation. If it’s a matter of resources/spots available in specific courses, it’s possible to create a petition system where students can achieve special permission to take more than 16 credits at no extra cost. If it’s a matter of possible financial disparities, it’s possible to reduce the cost of each additional credit based on students’ financial needs. I’m not an economist or an educator, and I certainly do not know what goes on behind the scenes when Hope administrators plan each semester, but I do know that it’s difficult to spend an extra $500-$1,500 per semester in tuition while also grappling with the thought of mountains of student loans for years to come. If Hope can save the average student $12,000 or more in their four years here, why wouldn’t they?

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