New Credit System Discourages Health and Fitness Classes

Phoebe Hammer, Sports Editor

A lot of controversy surrounds the new credit system at Oberlin. With a switch from credit hours to number of courses taken, it prevents students from “loading up” their first couple years then easing off their senior year, going part time or using AP credits to graduate early. With a requirement of 32 courses to graduate, students must average four courses per semester, every semester.

No one seems too happy about this change, but the new system has another more subtle — and arguably, more serious — downside.

Out of the 32 courses, only two can come from “co-curricular” departments. These include Experimental College classes, Physical Education classes, Varsity Athletics and writing for publications like the Review, all of which count as one “half course” per semester. This means that if you are a varsity athlete and plan on playing all four years for credit, don’t bother taking an ExCo or writing for The Grape, since it won’t count toward anything.

In the past, a credit was a credit, and as long as you had fulfilled the requirements of your major, the 9-9- 9 General Distribution Requirement, cultural diversity and quantitative and writing proficiencies, those credits could come from anywhere. This encouraged students to take health and wellness classes such as yoga, weight training or aerobics, especially in their senior year when job and graduate school applications become stressful.

Now students will most likely turn away from Physical Education classes in order to fill the demanding “academic course” requirements. For example, a typical non-varsity sophomore that has taken a couple ExCo courses and written for a campus publication will only have the opportunity to take one PE course for credit for the rest of their time at Oberlin. While some Oberlin students would cringe at the idea of signing up for a PE class ever, for many the extra credit is a necessary incentive.

“I tried to take one PE course every year,” said a non-varsity athlete who graduated under the old system. “The credit was a good way to help me motivate myself to get fit. And when I didn’t want to do something as rigorous, classes like Bowling I and Yoga were great stress-relievers that helped me learn a new skill.”

This has also impacted me quite significantly. I was originally interested in taking a fitness class next fall, but because I took Bowling I my freshman year, have received credit for lacrosse and written for the Review for four semesters in a row, it won’t count as one of my four courses, and I can’t fit it in my schedule otherwise. I also considered taking an ExCo sometime next year. I’ve never taken one, and I figured I should experience this uniquely Oberlin concept before I graduate, but that is also no longer feasible.

Several other rising seniors have expressed similar frustrations. One of my classmates, who was interested in taking Fitness for Life, was discouraged by her advisor because she already had too many co-curricular courses from previous years. “I feel like I’m not in very good shape anymore because I’m so distracted by school and other work, and I wanted to take a class that would help me be healthier, but I feel like I can’t really do that now,” she said.

The new system is an unintended slap in the face to an Athletics department that has put so much time and money into improving overall health and wellness, offering new classes and spreading awareness. At the same time, one of the administration’s Capital Campaign projects is a $15 million renovation of Philips gym. This seems counterintuitive to a credit system that doesn’t support Physical Education classes or varsity sports.

With heavier course loads, students need exercise and mental decompression more than anything, but now there is less incentive to pursue those activities. Oberlin has always stressed that overall well-being and health will always come before academics, but this new system seems to show exactly the opposite.