Harvey Mudd College students report overwhelming workload in recent study

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

Harvey Mudd College released the results of the Workload and Health at Mudd report Aug. 20, revealing widespread poor mental health stemming from excessive schoolwork and the college’s core curriculum in particular.

While HMC’s demanding core program aims to equip students with a comprehensive scientific background and the ability to solve problems across disciplines, it is also a large source of students’ stress.

According to the WHAM report, Multivariable Calculus and Introduction to Academic Writing are among the most overwhelming courses, especially when paired with other academic commitments.

“Assuming a full course load, students are spending approximately 45 hours per week either in class or on classwork — more than is required at a full-time job,” the study reported.

Previous reports highlight similar struggles. The Wabash Report, an evaluation of HMC’s workload and honor code conducted in October 2015, was leaked to TSL and made public in April 2017. One of its findings was that students’ workload left little time for “broader, more liberal arts pursuits both in and outside the classroom.”

Autumn Herness HM ’21 was a participant in the WHAM study last fall.

“I find it frustrating sometimes how many classes we have to take, even though going in I knew that would be the case,” she said. “I can’t get as involved in the clubs I care about because I have so many required classes.”

Mudd students have long called for changes to the core curriculum and their voices have risen to prominence since last spring’s protests held in response to the Wabash Report’s release.  

Since the publishing of both these reports, HMC has taken strides to alleviate students’ academic stress by making professors more flexible with their office hours, deadlines, and testing.

The WHAM study was conducted over the course of the fall 2017 semester.

“The general consensus among my class is that [it accurately represented] what we were doing in the fall,” Herness said. “But had they redone the study in the spring, it would be a completely different story.”

First-years at HMC are on a pass-fail grading scale their first semester while they adjust to the academics of college. The spring semester opens up students to taking more credits and potentially more difficult classes as well.

Louis Stromeyer HM ’22 returned to Mudd this year from a leave of absence due to depression.

“Coming back, I was uncertain of how I’d do,” Stromeyer said. “I thought things would work out, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure. So far, they’ve been very supportive. Mudd does a pretty good job at throwing resources at you, but I think that might be because Mudd has to (recognize) the reality of this.”

Stromeyer said he thought the numbers in the WHAM study were underreported, especially in regard to the data on the average time spent on coursework outside of class.

“I think most Mudd students get very good at [asking themselves], ‘I have 20 minutes, what can I do?’” Stromeyer said. “So it’s kind of hard to keep track of how much you’re working when that’s how your work habits are.”

He recommends that professors ask themselves if the work they’re assigning is worth it. Along those lines, Stromeyer suggests cutting down on the three required laboratories in HMC’s core curriculum.

“Students [could instead] pick two laboratories in whichever subjects they think are more important for them and their major,” Stromeyer said. “I think losing one of the labs would really help.”

He also said he believes some courses open to all students need to better communicate their difficulty, especially to first-years.

“I’m in E11 Autonomous Vehicles, and it’s open to anyone from [any experience level], and people without experience are just struggling like crazy because we’re just flashing through stuff ridiculously quickly,” he said.

While Mudd’s academic rigor continues to be one of its defining traits, Stromeyer said, “frankly, none of this is worth it if your students are so burnt out that your students are just cramming before tests and not remembering it at the end.”

Corrections: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that there are five required labs in HMC’s core curriculum, and an earlier graphic only depicted that the minimum standard Carnegie Unit recommendation is 24 hours a week. The article has been updated to reflect that there are three required labs and that the standard recommendation is 24-36 hours a week. TSL regrets these errors.

This article was last updated on Sept. 25 at 11:49 p.m.
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