Upper Division Credit Report, 5/1/08

Report on Minimum Upper Division Credit Requirement


2007/2008 Academic Year


Last fall, President Dennison requested that Faculty Senate consider increasing the upper division requirement to 50 credits.  Currently, all students must complete a minimum of 39 credits in courses numbered 300 and above to meet graduation requirements for the baccalaureate degree.  That is, more than two thirds of the credits presented for graduation may come from 100 and 200 level courses.  Because upper division courses are typically smaller classes that require more writing and critical thinking, as well as more direct interaction with faculty members, increasing the upper division requirement could significantly enhance the educational experience of undergraduates. 

Following preliminary discussions in ASCRC, a memo went out to all academic departments and programs requesting feedback about specific repercussions of increasing the requirement to 42, 45, or 48 credits. ASCRC also surveyed upper division credit requirements at other institutions.    

ASCRC Findings

1.  The University of Montana does not clearly articulate lower and upper division expectations of students.  Lower division courses are 100 and 200 level, upper division are 300 and above.  These levels are described in the catalogue as:

100-199     Primarily for freshmen.

200-299     Primarily for sophomores.

300-399     Primarily for juniors.

400-499     Primarily for seniors.

2. ASCRC received feedback from 11 academic units.  None of the units indicated problems with a requirement of 42 upper division credits.  However, significant concerns were raised about increasing the requirement to 45 or 48 credits. 

-The character of upper division courses will change with more students enrolled.  It will be more difficult for faculty to find time for direct interaction with students and careful grading of written assignments, activities that enhance development of mature critical thinking in students.   

-Time to graduation will be longer for students in majors that require a large number of cognate courses, which are generally lower division courses.

-Time to graduation will be longer for students with double majors.

-Time to graduation will be longer for students who make radical or late changes in their major.

-Time to graduation will be longer for students who transfer from two year programs. 

-Many of the responding units indicated that 45 or more credits would work only if students can satisfy general education requirements with upper division courses

-Several units indicated that they would be forced to change

content and course numbers of some required core courses

in the major to the 300 level.       

3.  The University of Montana upper division credit requirement is at the mid-range of comparable institutions.  The comparison (see appended data and analysis) is complicated by differences such as semesters versus quarters, total credits required for graduation, etc.  When required upper division hours are expressed as a ratio of minimum degree hours,

7 schools require fewer than 32%

6 schools require 32-33%                     UM 39/120=32.5%

5 schools require more than 33%  

Therefore, UM policy is not out of line with similar universities. 

ASCRC Recommendations

1.  Any language describing 100/200/300/400 level courses beyond what appears in the catalogue will be unnecessarily proscriptive.  However, the differences between lower and upper division courses should be articulated for students.  ASCRC started preliminary work on this issue, but it will not be completed this year.

2.  This issue is complicated by the ongoing general education revision.  Support for increasing the upper division requirement to 42 credits could hinge on whether a reasonable number of 300 and 400 level courses will be approved for general education groups. ASCRC recommends that the upper division requirement be revisited after the new general education curriculum is established.