The limiting nature of credit maximums

Amy Vandervelde

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Macalester students know that the registrar’s office maintains several guidelines for credit distribution through general requirements, such as four semesters minimum of a language. Other distribution requirements include eight credits in the social sciences, eight credits in the natural sciences and mathematics and 12 credits divided between the humanities and fine arts. However, in addition to the credit requirements that students must have to graduate, there are also caps on how many credits students may earn within certain areas.

These caps can be found at the top of each student’s DegreeWorks page. The first maximum cap notes that students may not exceed 96 credits (24 four-credit courses) within either natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities or fine arts. While keeping in mind that a Macalester student taking 16 credits of full courses for the regular eight semesters would complete 128 credits or 32 courses, this so-called division maximum holds that no more than three years worth of courses can be spent within one of these four divisions.

This cap places a significant barrier for anyone who has a double major where both departments fall under the same division. For example, a student may be both a religious studies and a history major, but because these majors are both under the humanities division, the cap makes it harder for students to access further emphasis on their specific interests with extra topics courses or courses in other departments within the same division. The same applies to a student who is both a computer science and biology major, which are both under the natural sciences and mathematics divisions.

Let’s revisit the student double majoring in history and religious studies. The history major according to Macalester’s website “comprises no fewer than 40 history credits.” These 40 credits would be 10 courses. Similarly, the religious studies major “consists of eight courses of religion and two supplementary courses.” This would then be another 10 humanities courses, making the student’s total 20 courses, which then means that only four courses remain until this student would reach the division maximum set by the registrar’s office. Thus, a student with these two humanities majors would only have the ability to take four extra courses for credit in other humanities departments. This restriction inhibits students from delving deeper into their particular academic interests. Any student with a better idea of the areas they would like to study will not have as much of a chance to directly enhance their studies with other coordinating courses because of these caps, unlike students who decide to double major in two areas within separate divisions, like chemistry and English.

Additionally, for a double major in computer science and biology, a student would not be able to fulfill all of the necessary requirements because of this division maximum. The computer science major is 12 courses, and the biology major is “38 credits in biology… and five supporting courses (20 credits).” Therefore, in order to double major in a pair of natural science and mathematics departments, the division maximum places a greater restraint because a student would need to go 10 credits over the cap in this scenario. This maximum makes it impossible for anyone to major in both computer science and biology.

Consequently, this division cap places a limit on how in-depth a student can go into a given field outside of completing their major. The concept was probably formed in order to enhance the diverse nature of a liberal arts education. In forcing students towards different divisions outside of their majors, the cap restricts students in how many courses they can take that complement with their major.

In addition to the division cap, the registrar’s office also maintains a discipline cap. Once again noted at the top of each student’s DegreeWorks page, there is a maximum of 60 credits per academic department. On average, majors consist of anywhere between 40 credits to 58 credits. After subtracting the major credits from the departmental cap, only a maximum of 20 credits remains for a student to take within an individual department.

Constricting students to taking only five more courses in a department apart from those counting towards a major is still significant. The cap locks students into taking only a certain number of courses and various courses are offered sporadically. If a student were to take several courses for their major early on, then the cap could later keep a student from taking more courses within their major’s department. When looking at majors larger than 10 courses, this barrier becomes more apparent because students are barely able to take courses outside of their major requirements within the same department.

Thus, while the distribution caps are likely in place to help maximize student involvement in several academic areas, they become a barrier for students who have already chosen the fields that they would like to focus on. Instead, the caps force students to balance how in depth they can examine a particular academic discipline. Therefore, Macalester should not hold these distribution caps over its students because the caps are intensely limiting in nature. Rather than helping students expand their knowledge into other academic fields, the caps impede students’ abilities to examine their desired academic interests to their fullest depth. Macalester should look further into cross-listing courses across departments in order to alleviate some of the pressure of the division cap. With more cross-listed courses, students can take more courses that correlate to their interests without exceeding the division cap.