New law requires state schools to keep degree requirements at 120 credit hours

Jessie Hellmann

The Indiana general assembly passed a law that will allow the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) to limit the number of credit hours a school can require for academic programs, which could cause problems for Indiana public universities, including the University of Southern Indiana (USI).

The law, which Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Friday and goes into effect July 1, requires four-year Indiana public institutions to limit bachelor programs to 120 hours and associate programs to 60. Because of this law, students can take 15 credit hours each semester for eight semesters and graduate in four years.

 At USI, six associate programs are more than 60 credit hours, and all 68 bachelor programs are more than 120 hours, most at 124 credit hours.

Kent Scheller, associate physics professor and ICHE faculty representative, said the law is intended to reign in education costs and get more students to graduate in four years. The four-year graduation rate for USI students is 15 percent.

“I’m a little worried about it, to be quite honest, because most of the reasons students are surpassing that 120 mark is not always requirements of the university,” he said.

He said because students change majors, fail classes and other circumstances, students surpass the 120 mark.

“I think it’s a step forward,” Scheller said. “It’s a reasonable thing to say ‘hey, let’s try to control runway costs by eliminating number of hours,’ but that doesn’t necessarily treat the cause of the problem.”

The core revision task force worked on revising the core curriculum, and if approved would reduce the number of required hours from 50 to 39 for future USI students.

Scheller said he believes the core changes will put most programs under 120 credit hours.

Programs that require students to take more than 120 credit hours have two options: trim down the requirements to 120 or submit justification to the ICHE explaining why the program cannot cut down its requirements.

According to the law, justification may be accepted if a program’s standards are established by external accrediting bodies, if additional credit hours are required by occupational certification,  or if employer requirements or enhanced program quality and content require the additional credit hours.

Scheller said mostly professional schools like the Nursing and Health Professions College, and programs like engineering will be affected.

For example, a bachelor of science in engineering currently requires 130 credit hours, and a bachelor of science in occupational therapy requires 127–128 credit hours.

Cynthia Brinker, vice president for university and governmental relations, said the new law will not have as big an impact at USI as it will at other state universities that have more degree programs.

She said the university will start to implement the legislation sometime through the next year.

“The bill is so new that I think people are just now thinking about and talking about it,” Brinker said. “We have some time before we need to do some reporting to the commission.”