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Opinion: Issues with "Weed-Out" Classes

Photo by Aminah Jenkins

Principles of Biology. Organic Chemistry. General Physics. These courses are among those commonly referred to as “weed-out classes” by students, especially those studying STEM fields. A weed-out class is one that is incredibly academically rigorous and often has nothing to do with a student’s ultimate degree or career path. The general idea of requiring these classes is to challenge students and see who among them is willing to put in the enormous amount of work and effort required for success in things like Ph.D. programs and medical or veterinary school. But in practice, requiring these courses often expands inequities that already exist in our education systems and can be detrimental to students' GPAs and their mental health.

Students that work themselves through school don’t have the privilege of studying for eight hours a day as financially secure students do. Those coming from high schools that didn’t offer a litany of AP or IB courses may lack the foundational skills professors assume students already possess, which causes them to have to work twice as hard at the same course. Coming into college without the credits offered by expensive AP and IB testing also means these students often end up having to take many of these courses all at the same time, compounding their difficulty. All of these factors combined work against underprivileged students, who are almost always students of color and poor students, making it nearly impossible for them to progress in the STEM fields.

While this isn’t a Meredith-specific issue, the problems of weed-out classes are definitely apparent on our campus. Students in Meredith’s General Physics I course have reported being told they are expected to study at least 15 hours a week outside of the 6 hours they already spend in class and lab. That’s the equivalent of working a part-time job for four credits in a subject that many students will never use again, but they are required to survive two semesters of it to get their degrees. Even if students only take 12 credits each semester, that’s a 60-hour work week simply for academics. For students who already have to work to put themselves through college or who have a family to take care of, that’s simply not possible.

While supposedly designed to test all students at equal levels, weed-out classes ultimately perpetuate the systemic racism and classism already rampant in our higher education programs.

By Clary Taylor, News Editor



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