Issues with minor requirement raised by provost, faculty

A bit more than a decade after it was implemented, the required minor at Baldwin Wallace is showing some signs of wear.

After the revision of the Core Curriculum in 2004, the university established a requirement of a minor to establish depth of knowledge in another field outside of the major. However, many faculty members, including Provost Dr. Stephen Stahl, say the minor is not currently being used as it was intended.

Members of administration and faculty have expressed support for the minor requirement, but also felt there are currently some issues that need to be addressed. Stahl said one problem he sees is with students having too many majors and minors.

“I am concerned we have many students that have two majors and three minors or three majors and two minors,” said Stahl. “I think over-credentialing is a problem. If you have too many degrees it diminishes the quality of education.”

Over-credentialing is just one current issue with the minor requirement, however. Students are declaring minors that are too similar to their major, school officials said.

According to Dr. Susan Oldrieve, associate dean of the School of Humanities and professor of English, students end up delaying their graduation and increasing the financial burden by declaring too many majors and minors. 

“They are looking at graduation rates and trying to figure out why people aren’t graduating in four years,” said Oldrieve. “And sometimes this is the reason. Students choose to stay to finish their double major or triple major or quadruple minor.”

Though nothing is imminent, she said there has been talk with the Dean’s Council and especially Stahl about limiting the number of credentials a student can declare. In separate interviews, Stahl and Oldrieve, along with Randy Molmen, associate professor of Computer Science, and Dr. Lori Long, chair of the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, agreed that students should be limited in the extent of degrees declared, though there has been no talk of when this change might occur.

“There are some things we have to work on, I think, to get to where we want to be,” said Stahl. “I would like to see us limit the number of majors and minors a student can sign up for and I would like to see us have a hard deadline by which a student must sign for the major and minor. I think if we do things like that, there will be less desire for students to have too many credentials.”

Long said she is supportive of limiting majors and minors, but there’s another problem other than delaying graduation and increasing financial burden: the impact on the student’s college experience. That experience, she said, should be “academics as well as the co-curricular.”

“Students that aggressively seek several majors and several minors often are taking 18-plus credits a semester and are unable to get engaged in extra-curricular activities and so forth,” said Long. “So I’m not opposed to limiting the number of majors and minors students have because I think there are lots of other rich experiences you get as a college student that you should be able to take advantage of.”

Another problem with the current state of the required minor, said Stahl, is students who declare a minor or minors that overlap with their major too much.

He said this is often a situation of students taking the easiest path to a minor, which was not the intention of the requirement. While a similar major can be helpful, he said, it would need to be selected for “interest rather than sake of ease.” Having experience outside the scope of the major provides a clear a vocational benefit, he said.

“When chosen for interest, it forces you outside of the home of the major into a different discipline,” said Stahl. “When you get out in the real world, you’re going to have to have mastery of a subject matter, but be expected to apply it in a multi-disciplinary field and probably end up nowhere near where you started.”

When the minor was first proposed by the Core Curriculum Committee between 2002 and 2004, the idea was to get more depth in a field outside of the school of the student’s major, said Oldrieve.

At that time, the Higher Learning Committee, which evaluates the school’s accreditation, had said students needed more depth in the core and the Core Curriculum Committee agreed the minor was the best way to do that, said Oldrieve.

“We put together this task force and researched what other schools were doing and came up with two or three models that the faculty then voted on,” she said. “The idea of a minor was brought to the committee and everyone liked it because it doubled the marketability of our students by giving them two fields of depth. They also liked the idea since it created more emphasis on the liberal arts idea of being well-rounded — of knowing things outside your major.”

The minor was a good idea, said Oldrieve, but many people, including Long and Molmen, agreed it wasn’t practical for every student to have a minor outside of the school of their major.

Molmen said the requirement was changed to have minor outside of the major and this is where the problem of overlap comes in.

There needs to be more of a difference in the classes required for the major and minor to avoid this problem, he said, which falls on the departments.

“There’s always pressure to let someone do a minor that is so close to their major,” said Molmen, “and that really doesn’t accomplish the things we want it to accomplish. So, departments need to resist the pressure to create minors that are too close to the major or captive within the major.”

If used properly, a minor can provide diverse learning experiences, prepare a student for a career, and give two perspectives on the world, according to the faculty.

Though there are issues with its current incarnation and execution, Molmen said he is “absolutely” in favor of the minor when used for its original purpose.

“The idea of getting a significant depth of study in a different field is great,” said Molmen. “It’s useful for our students. It helps them succeed later in life, both professionally and personally. It gives them the ability to work with different groups of people that have different values and different approaches.”