Winthrop to require fewer hours to graduate

adouglas@heraldonline.comMay 13, 2014 

Jamie Comstock raises her hand after giving her inauguration speech Friday at Winthrop University. Photos by Tracy Kimball

Reducing the number of classroom hours required for Winthrop University students to graduate will support a campus goal to help more students attain degrees and save families money, school officials say.

Professors and Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson support the change, which the Board of Trustees approved on Friday. The campus-wide change will reduce – to 120 from 124 – the number of credit hours students need to graduate.

Most Winthrop courses offer three-hour credits toward graduation. Many topics and the university’s honor symposium courses are offered as one-hour credits.

The change to require only 120 hours applies to Winthrop’s bachelor’s degree options. To graduate, students are now required to earn 38 to 53 general education credits – course credits that primarily come from college classes outside of the student’s chosen major or program.

The 120-hour requirement is one important step toward making a Winthrop degree more affordable, Williamson said. The change also should help more students graduate on time. Winthrop bachelor’s degrees are generally designed for students to finish after four years or less of study.

When students graduate on time, Williamson said, it saves families money.

Faculty members, Williamson and other Winthrop leaders reviewed the university’s general education requirements. The change reduces the number of general education classes students need to take to graduate. A new 1-hour credit requirement for physical education is also now in place.

Officials who studied the possible change found that 80 percent of Winthrop students were already taking at least one physical education class without the requirement. The necessary 1-hour credit can be met in a variety of ways, such as taking physically intensive dance courses or if a student is enrolled in ROTC.

Students can obtain 120 hours by enrolling in the standard 15 hours of class credit every semester. The reduction in required degree hours could especially help transfer students who enter Winthrop after studying at other schools that require fewer general education course hours.

Many schools comparable to Winthrop are already using the 120-hour standard, officials said.

While Winthrop’s 55 percent graduation rate is already above the national average, Williamson said, there’s room for improvement.

“To improve our graduation rate,” she said, “we have to eliminate barriers to students’ graduating on time.”

The change in required credits keeps Winthrop in line with the minimum standards required for program accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission.

English professor John Bird, the faculty representative to the Winthrop board, said the change came after a nearly one-year review by professors and academic staff members.

The last major review of general education requirements at Winthrop took nearly six years, he said, applauding the university’s ability to work faster toward change over the past year.

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