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Drawbacks of the SKKU Department System

The year is nearing its end. The upcoming year will again see the campus full of freshmen. In our school, most of these freshmen first belong to general academic departments before their specific major is decided. As such, on both the Humanities and Social Sciences Campus and Natural Sciences Campus in total, approximately 2,200 students out of 3,300 freshmen belong to the general departments. These freshmen are to explore various academic disciplines of their interest before applying for their respective majors. However, there are several issues around this system that call for changes. The Sungkyun Times(SKT) will now be looking over the current status of the department system, as well as viable options to enhance the system in the future.

The Current Condition of the Department System at SKKU

What Is the Department System?

In Korea, the academic structure of a university consists largely of a major system and department system. As for the case of SKKU, the university accepts both applications to either the department or a specific major when recruiting students. When students enter SKKU through the major system, their major is confirmed before admission. Such students’ are assured admittance and their majors are “reserved” for them. However, when students enter by the department system, they are sent to study in larger departments, such as the department of Social Science, Humanities Science, Natural Science, or Engineering, for their first year of studies. The overseeing body of the combined major system and department system is University College. SKKU established the University College in March 2005 after switching to a department system in 1996. The University College aims to enable students to develop their combined ability through various liberal arts education courses before choosing their majors.

SKKU’s Department Management System

➊ LC (Learning Community)

Each department is divided into groups called, LCs, short for Learning Communities which are made to foster students’ educations and social lives at the same time. Each LC consists of 20 students who together take freshmen prerequisite courses. For more systemic university education, an LC forms students into communities with self-learning environments and it becomes the basis of a freshmen’s education, learning, social interaction, and the livelihood of university life. Then after the first year within an LC, finally students apply for a specific major of their interest.

➋ Connected Structure of “Sungkyun mentor-FG-LC”

Under an LC, freshmen are systematically nurtured by the aid of Sungkyun Mentors and Freshmen Guides, often conveniently referred to as FGs, for active interactions. The Sungkyun Mentors are advisors and professors who provide academic assistance and guidance to first-year students. The FGs are senior students that help freshmen adapt to the university through mentoring groups. Under the management of an LC, a freshmen lounge is available along with seminar rooms, reading rooms, and PC rooms that are offered to students who aren’t able to get a room for major students yet. This systematized program allows students to adapt successfully to university learning environments.

The Problem of Department System in SKKU

From now on “students” refer to “students belonging to departments”.

1. An Obsession with the Management of GPAs

After finishing the first year, students in the department apply for the major admission and all criteria are based on GPAs. The law of supply and demand, which means when the demand is high, the price increases, is related to the requirement of high GPAs for specific majors. Although a lot of students wish to enter a high-demand major, there is a limit to accepting students in that the cut-off point becomes higher. Accordingly, freshmen have an obsession with the management of GPAs so as to be able to get into their desired major before they even adapt to a college class which is different from high school. The problem occurs where GPAs are the only criteria that confirms their major. This means that it excludes the students’ aptitude and preference. Therefore, it makes students unconditionally focus on GPAs.

2. The Problems Regarding Earning GPAs

As such, many first-year students are restricted to taking the first-year-grade-prioritized liberal arts classes according to the freshman curriculum. And all liberal arts except those for freshmen, Core Equilibrium, for instance, are only limited to second to fourth graders for applying. Therefore, first-year-grade students cannot take Core Equilibrium due to limitations and major courses that they do not have their own “major”, they might just waste their GPAs until they become sophomores. This situation has an impact even after the major is decided. The problem occurs where GPAs to attend lectures are not enough to complete the necessary GPAs to graduate. If they are able to take Core Equilibrium in first grade, the problem can be alleviated. Moreover, if students apply for a second major, they must acquire GPAs for their own major, double major, and the rest of the Core Equilibrium. Accordingly, many students are forced to give up their double major or spend extra tuition fees to take additional semester courses.

3. Absence of a Sense of Belonging

Problems of belonging are seen between the assured admitted students (with reserved majors) and the students in the departments. Because all students that have reserved their major enter the school with a definite major, they have a lot of interaction with seniors starting in the first year. On the other hand, students in the departments have less interaction with their seniors because their majors are decided in the first semester of the second grade, so they sometimes have difficulty in academic activities and getting along with people. In addition, LC members who were close friends in the first year are scattered and thus cannot feel the sense of belonging. And, this is contradictory to the goal of the LCs that SKKU pursues. Students with temporary majors also experience the problem that all majors of the humanities department accommodate temporary major students. However, it is transitory because it is not their actual major. Students have no other choice but to be unfamiliar with a major.

Solutions to the Problems

Flexible Major Choices

GPAs can be an important element, but they do not fulfill the purpose of dividing students into majors that they fit into. In other words, a flexible system should be the basis for dividing students for majors. This can be achieved through avoiding a unified major choice system with the standard of GPAs, and instead employing a flexible major choice system. Examples can often be found in universities overseas that emphasize flexibility, and these can be served as role models for SKKU. It is advisable to adapt a system that has different periods of time for every department before encouraging students to choose a specific major. This is to understand the fact that some departments may need more time than others before going into a specific major. Also, an appropriate period to think over the major choice may vary from person to person. For instance, in the departments of the University of California at Berkeley, students in some departments stay longer to explore more in choosing their major compared to some of the others. A flexible system of granting degrees irrelevant to a major can also be an answer to students obsessed with high GPAs. If students can get degrees of their desired major regardless of the major they belong to, they will be less obsessed with high GPAs. In McGill University, Canada, if students feel like they do not fit well with their majors or wish to graduate with a degree in a different major, the University provides a flexible system where the same degree can be achieved in various parts of different departments. For example, all students from the Faculty of Agro-Environmental Sciences, the Faculty of Arts, and the Faculty of Science are eligible for the doctoral degree of Environmental Science.

Course Registration Without Any Restrictions for Freshmen

A system that allows freshmen to take any of the major courses for 2-4th grades or elective courses can be adapted to solve the problems regarding earning GPAs. Chung Ang University (CAU) has the same system of drafting most freshmen into departments, however, students of CAU are only required to take limited pre-requisite courses and allow all other credits to be taken under one’s freedom. Also, a temporary major system in this university allows freshmen in a department to take courses in a specific major for an experience and that credit is recognized when the student chooses that major. Accordingly having fewer restrictions on course registration depending on grades is suggestable.

Prolonged Organization and Activity for Freshmen

LCs, Sungkyun Mentors, and FGs are temporary single year programs, but they should encourage sustainable interactions throughout students’ university careers. These programs and activities must be longer and more systematized to last throughout a student’s life at university for students to get more sense of belonging. LC activities are encouraged to be officially activated until they graduate. For example, LCs’ farewell and welcoming ceremonies for students who planned to fulfill their duties with the military can be a desirable way to bring LC members together continuously.

The departments at SKKU have an advantage for freshmen to have time to think about their careers and meet various people through LC activities. However, an obsession with the management of grades, the problem regarding credits, as well as the absence of a sense of belonging arise which call for an appropriate solution. Accordingly, the SKT expects SKKU to progress with the direction that it pursues by considering the issues in comparison with the successful cases of other institutions

김은채, 김원영  silkfavor@naver.com

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