Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Dreaded "300 Level" Course

Although I've been doing this for some time, I still don't fully understand how course levels are determined. This is particularly true in the social sciences and humanities, where you don't have relatively hard and fast prerequisites to settle the question.

Is “Women in Film” properly a 200 level course or a 300 level course? What about “Psychology of Aging” or “Civil Liberties”? More interestingly, how do you know?

In my neck of the woods, this is becoming a high-stakes question.

By law, cc's here aren't allowed to offer classes above the 200 level. The idea is that 300 level classes are intended for juniors and seniors majoring in a given discipline, so they properly belong to the four-year colleges. (In return, we have a very strong claim on having credits for 100 and 200 level classes transfer.) If we overstep our curricular bounds, the four-year schools won't take our credits in transfer, and our graduates will have to repeat – and pay for repeating – courses they've already taken.

Worse, it's at least theoretically possible that continued, sustained curricular overreach could land us in serious trouble with the state, which would not be a happy outcome for us.

Over time, as one might expect, there have been border skirmishes. Northern Midtier State says Advanced Basketweaving is a 200 level class, and it accepts our credits in transfer; Southern Midtier State says it's a 300 level class and gives our grads a hard time. We defend ourselves by pointing out that NMS says it's a 200-level class, but you can imagine how much that means to the faculty at SMS.

Now that the state is pushing harder for regularized transfer of credits, the stakes are being raised. Now we aren't just talking about a course here and there; we're talking about the entire midsection of the curriculum. Some of the four-year schools have started renumbering some 200 level courses as 300 level, specifically to defeat the transfer initiative. (They'd rather have the students pay them for the course a second time.) Of course, others haven't, and there's a surprising level of disagreement among the four-year schools when you get down to specifics. And, to be fair, we'd love to run some of the classes that the four-year schools claim as their exclusive domain. Both sides have an economic interest in the outcome of the squabbling, so nobody can credibly claim impartiality. In the absence of some sort of authoritative list of what goes where, it can be hard to know where intellectual arguments end and resource battles begin.

So I'll ask my wise and worldly readers, since y'all can afford a certain honesty.

How do you know a 300 level class when you see one? Is there a reasonable way to distinguish the 200 from the 300 level on a course-by-course basis? And if there is, how does one square “statewide transfer” with local faculty governance?