CUP proposes ‘Phase Two’ continuation of the First-Year Experiment at faculty meeting

Proposal retains Class of 2022 first-year grading policy, changes credit limits

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) presented a proposal for a “Phase Two” continuation of the First-Year Experiment at a faculty meeting last Wednesday afternoon. Phase Two would impact the Class of 2023.

The presentation was led by Professor Duane Boning, chair of the CUP.

The current “Phase One” policy for the Class of 2022 allows students to designate three additional science core GIRs to be graded as P/NR after the first semester. Phase Two retains the Phase One grading policy for fall 2019 and spring 2020 but changes the credit limits for both semesters.

Currently, in the fall semester, students can take no more than 54 units total, and there are no other Institute restrictions on students’ course load. The modifications that the CUP proposes are twofold. First, the general credit limit would be reduced to 48 units. Second, there would be 9 additional “Discovery” units that students can only use to take freshman advising seminars, first-year discovery seminars, and UROPs for credit.

Then, in the spring of 2020, the credit limit would consist of a general credit limit of 54 units and an additional 9 Discovery units. In contrast, the current policy limits students to 57 units unless they have been offered Early Sophomore Standing (ESS).

In addition, the CUP proposed that ESS be replaced with an option available to all first-year students that they may, with advisor approval, take 60 general units of courses. The CUP believes that this additional course would be used as an elective or major course that would help students decided which major to pursue.

The CUP put forth many reasons to consider alternatives to ESS. At the faculty meeting, Boning highlighted two of these reasons. Currently, students are eligible for ESS if they have completed 96 units of credit before IAP of their freshman year and a communication-intensive course. Therefore, eligibility for ESS is in no direct way based on demonstrated academic success during the students’ first semester at MIT. In fact, according to Boning, the top half of students not offered ESS this spring performed better than the bottom quartile of students who were offered ESS this semester.

Furthermore, Boning argued that students from high schools with large AP programs are the ones who are more likely to be eligible for ESS, while highly capable students from other schools are unlikely to be offered ESS.

In his presentation, Boning put forth a timeline that hopes to have further discussion of the Phase Two proposal in March and to be able to explain the experimental policy to prospective students and their parents by CPW.

The faculty responded with a few concerns and suggestions. One faculty member proposed that pressure could be relieved by having students declare their major at the end of their first semester of sophomore year. However, that faculty member also acknowledged that this has many implications for department requirements and advising.

Another faculty member was concerned that the flexibility in the Phase One grading policy allows students to delay taking biology and chemistry GIRs, reducing the ability to explore courses such as 5, 7, 10, and 20. Another felt that the timeline seemed somewhat rushed, and by following this timeline much of the opportunity for discourse would be lost.

As a whole, the First-Year Experiment is an effort spearheaded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) and the CUP in response to the data that they have collected that indicates that many students do not feel prepared to select a major at the end of their freshman year. In his presentation to the faculty, Boning showed that in responses to the 2018 Perception of Academic Majors survey, only 33 percent of surveyed students strongly agree that they were well-prepared to declare a major.

The OVC and CUP have reason to believe that this is a result of a lack of ability to explore other majors by taking introductory classes in courses of interest. According to Boning’s presentation, the CUP Study Group on Majors for students entering in fall 2017 found that many students feel pressure to take many science core GIRs on P/NR in their first semester, leaving little to no room to explore other classes. They developed the First-Year Experiment to explore alternatives that could alleviate this issue.