The classroom is at the core of the University’s mission and should be the last thing compromised to budget cuts. However, concerns about graduation rates and pressure from state budget cuts are causing some UNC-system schools to consider loosening restrictions and degree requirements to get students out on time. Such actions only add academic insult to financial injury.
With a 34.9 percent four-year graduation rate in 2004 — the most recent data available — the UNC system has reason to be concerned. But lowering the bar for a degree, no matter how small, should not be an option.
Yet, this is exactly what is happening on a case-by-case basis across the system’s schools.
UNC-Greensboro has limited students to 18 credit hours and allowed greater flexibility in major requirements. UNC-Wilmington has expanded independent study courses that can often be crafted to fit a missing requirement.
Even UNC-CH, which has a four-year graduation rate of 80.4 percent, took strides to remove barriers to graduation by altering the undergraduate curricula requirements on supplemental education.
While these actions reduce the number of students waiting around for their degrees, it fails to address the dysfunctional relationship between students and course planning.
College students are fickle. They change majors, transfer, go abroad and ignore what is right in front of them. Thus, managing student course progress is a nightmare for those in academic advising. Budget cuts, which have diminished the number of course sections, have only made it harder for advisers to bail out students by finding last minute graduation requirements. The result: thousands of would-be graduates left one or two courses short of graduation.
Rather than lowering the bar for a degree, UNC should focus on how it can reduce the number of students caught in academic limbo. Improving course planning and offering more online sections of troublesome courses are good options. There will always be students unable to graduate in four years.
The value of a degree shouldn’t be sacrificed for them.
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