Millersville University, Faculty Senate

Attachment A
Faculty Senate Minutes
1 April 1997


To: Provost Francine McNairy and Faculty Senate
From: Joint Faculty and Student Senate Conference Committee
(Joel Piperberg, Bill Dorman, Joe Lynch, Richard Kerper
Chris Mulvihill and Sue Wong)
Albert Hoffman, Dean of School of Science and Mathematics
James Stager, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Re: Proposal for a Four Year Contract with Students
Date: April 1, 1997

The Joint Faculty-Student Senate Conference Committee along with two members of the Dean's Council has been asked to prepare an official statement regarding Millersville University's ability to enable students to graduate with a baccalaureate degree within a four year period. In so doing, we have addressed the following issues:

BACKGROUND

Graduate Rates at Millersville University and Other Universities

Data for freshmen entering as full-time undergraduates between 1988 and 1991 indicate that between 31.8 and 39.7% of those students graduated within four years. This number rises to 61.9-65.1% within five years for the 1988 through 1990 cohorts and 66.0-69.0% within six years for the 1988 and 1989 cohorts. These figures, at first glance, may seem low, but they compare favorably with similar statistics from other institutions. For example, the State System Research Office has determined that 4 year graduation rates of the 1990 and 1991 cohorts for the State System Universities average 27.8% and 26.0% respectively (6.4% - 44.4% for the 1990 cohort; 9.9% - 41.9% for the 1991 cohort). The 4 year graduation rates for Millersville University in the 1990 and 1991 cohorts were 39.6% and 39.7%, second and third, respectively, out of the fourteen State System Universities. MU also compares favorably with national rates compiled from 125 public and 39 private institutions (292,104 freshmen in 1990 and 283,763 in 1991). For the 1990 and 1991 cohorts, the national averages of students graduating within four years were 27.5% and 27.3% respectively. For the 1990 cohort, these figures rise rapidly at MU (61.9%), within the State System (51.5%) and nationally (48.6%) when the rates are determined for students earning their degrees within five years. The range in State System Universities for graduation within 5 years is 22.0% to 66.1% (MU ranks third in the System). Most of the increase in the fifth year at MU occurs after the first semester of that year suggesting that students graduating in the fifth year need to finish at most one semester of academic work, sometimes substantially less. Data are not yet available for graduating rates within five years for the 1991 cohort or within six years for either the 1990 or 1991 cohort.

A number of factors may contribute to the seemingly low four year graduation rates. Interestingly, a significant number of students are unaware that a course load of at least 15 sh/semester is required to graduate within 4 years (8 consecutive semesters). This is, in part, due to the well-known definition of a 12 sh load as a full-time load. Some students apparently believe that a schedule of 12sh/semester, ince it is by definition a full-time load, will give them a sufficient number of credits to graduate in four years. In addition, about 33% of our students change their majors and if the change occurs too late, it may delay graduation. Other factors include the transfer of students to other institutions, leaves of absence or the departure of students from the University for personal or academic reasons, low cumulative GPAs and others.

Many times, the extension in time normally required to earn a degree is due to a decreased academic load during one and often multiple semesters. Decreased academic loads are often consciously chosen by students because of their desire to maintain the best cumulative GPA possible, their need to work to support the cost of their education, or because of health-related issues; such students have been recognized as exemplars of a recently recognized type of student behavior called extenders. These students have been placed in two separate categories: vocational and collegiate extenders. Vocational extenders have more elevated levels of financial need and loan indebtedness. They often state that they must work to meet their expenses and they tend to have lower cumulative GPAs. A significant number of these studets attend MU and some appear before the Academic Standards Committee when their cumulative GPAs slip too far. Collegiate extenders often take a lighter credit load because they want more free time. they will sometimes drop one or more courses during the semester because their course work is too difficult and/or because their grade is poorer than they would like. Both of these two similar behaviors lead to graduation dates being pushed beyond the normally expected four year date.

Degree Programs Enabling students to Graduate Within Four Years

For the 1993-94 academic year, the following programs on average allowed students to graduate within four years: History (4.03 years), Music Education (3.97 years), Elementary Education (3.93 years), Political Science (3.91 years) and Anthropology (3.71 years). All other programs averaged over four years.

Despite the above averages, it appears that most of the degree programs at MU can be completed within four years. In some cases, the ability to finish the degree within this window depends upon the propoer sequence of courses being taken in a timely fashion and the absence of remedial courses.

The School of Science and Mathematics Within the Biology Department, the following programs can be completed within four years if the student begins with MATH 160 (Elementary Functions) and CHEM 111 (Introductory Chemistry I) and does not fail any courses or take courses that do not fulfill requirements: the BA, BS and BSE in Biology, the BS (Molecular Biology Option) and the BS (Ecology Option). The Nuclear Medical Technology (122 sh minimum), Medical Technology (123 sh minimum), Preoptometry (124 sh) and Prepodiatry (124 sh minimum) options are competitive at the clinical/entry stage and thus entry cannot be guaranteed.

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences A survey of the departments in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences indicates that all but two programs (the Art BSE and BFA programs [132 sh minimum]) can normally be completed within four years.

The School of Education The Department Chairs of the School of Education have stated that a number of dual majors could not be completed within four years (Psychology - Special Education, Psychology - Sociology, Psychology - Philosophy, and Technology - Education, for example). They also feel that some teacher education programs are likely to take longer than four years (BSE-Social Studies, BSE-Chemistry and the BSE programs in Art and Music and others may fall into this group of majors).

Degree Programs From Which Students Typically Do Not Graduate Within Four Years

For graduates during the academic year 1993-94, the following programs on average required significantly longer than four years: Educational Technology (5.37 years), Music (5.28 years), Meteorology (5.07 years), Economics (5.02 years) and Industry and Technology (4.95 years). Together, these majors accounted for 7.0% of the graduates for the 1993-94 academic year. For freshmen entering Millersville between 1981 and 1991, the ITEC program averaged the fewest students graduating within four years.

The School of Science and Mathematics Two programs within the Biology Department require more than 8 semesters for the completion of the degree: the Respiratory Therapy program and the Marine Biology option. The Respiratory Therapy option requires 5.5 years with the inclusion of the clinical portion of the program. The Marine Biology option requires one summer at Wallops Island. This, however, can be completed within 4 calendar years if the student goes to Marine Science Consortium at Wallops Island sometime before the Senior year.

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences The two programs within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences that cannot routinely be completed within four years are the Art BSE and BFA degrees. Both require 132 sh which amounts to an additional (ninth) semester of classes.

Strategies Employed By the University to Facilitate Graduation Within Four Years

The University employs a number of strategies that help to facilitate the graduation within four years of students who take an appropriate number of credits each semester. Among these strategies are:

1. The University supplies each student with an advisor to explain the graduation requirements and assist the student with the process. It is the student's responsibility to meet with his/her advisor regularly and adhere to the requirements. Often students do not fulfill this responsibility.
2. Prior to preregistration, deans, department chairs and scheduling committees attempt to predict the needs for seats in their departments' courses based upon enrollments in prerequisites, numbers of majors, faculty complement, data from the Registrar, information from the Admissions Office and the enrollment projections team and other historical information. They assign faculty to teach the courses indicated by the predicted needs and arrange the schedule with as few conflicts within and between departments as possible.
3. After preregistration, additional sections for courses that are oversubscribed can be opened as long as funds, adjuncts or regular faculty members are available. If unforeseen course conflicts arise, changes are made, when possible, to eliminate these conflicts. Occasionally, if courses are undersubscribed causing their cancellation, students who require those courses can obtain them through individualized instruction. Required courses are offered as often as possible, in many cases at least one section or more during each semester. Such courses are also offered during the summer or winter sessions.
4. In recent years, the enrollment limits on certain courses have been raised to make room for more students, a strategy which some consider to be potentially counterproductive since a lower faculty-student ratio is considered by many authorities to be a positive indicator of quality. For example, in certain courses (Writing courses and Perspectives courses), a small class size was considered to be an essential part of the classroom/educational experience. The size of these classes has now been increased making them more accessible to students which altering the experience for the sutdnets in terms of faculty:student ratio.
5. Adjustments to the General Education requirements have been made in the past and are presently under consideration. One result of such adjustments would be to make it easier for students to fulfill graduation requirements within four years.

It would appear from the information above that the strategies presently employed have been successful, but some further improvements in the system could boost four year graduation rates even further.

RECOMMENDATIONS

What Can Students Do to Maximize Their Ability to Graduate Within Four Years?

To facilitate graduation within four years, a student must satisfy a number of requirements and adhere to a relatively rigid schedule. Much of what a student must accomlish may seem obvious, but it does not hurt to state it for the record. Failure to adhere to any one of the suggestions listed below could result in a delay of the graduation date beyond four academic years from the begining of the freshman year.

1. A student must be enrolled in course work at Millersville for 8 consecutive Fall and Spring semesters and, as a general guideline, complete no fewer than 60 semester hours of applicable course work with passing grades by the end of the second year (24 calendar months), 90 hours by the end of the third year (36 calendar months) and 120 (or more hours in the case of some majors) by the end of the fourth year. It is recommended that students enroll in and pass 15 semester hours of classes each semester.
2. The student should successfully finish a minimum of 30 semester hours of General Education Core courses by the end of the second year, including core courses that also meet major requirements (required-related courses). All remaining General Education requirements must be fulfilled by the end of the eighth semester. Obviously, a student's major requirements should be completed by the end of the eighth semester of study.
3. The student should begin a recommended plan of study toward the major/option in which s/he plans to graduate no later than the start of the third semester of study and thereafter make adequate progress toward completing the major. Adequate progress should be defined by each major department in a statement provided at the time the major is declared or any other time. Specific majors may vary in this requirement. Generally, the Sciences require an earlier commitment.
4. Students should be notified that once a major has been chosen, a change in major may delay graduation pushing it beyond four years. It is likely that shifts to different options within the same major will not push graduation beyond four years unless the requirements for the two options are significantly different.
5. Each student should read the relevant sections of the Unviersity catalog and departmental handbooks, adhere to the general credit and enrollment policies and minimum major requirements stated therein and meet with his/her assigned advisor at least once per semester; the student should avoid taking courses that are in conflict with that advice. If the policies are unclear to the student, s/he should consult with his/her faculty advisor or Academic Advisement as soon as possible for clarification thus minimizing the chance that s/he will take courses that are in conflict with major and General Education requirements.
6. Before registration, the student should compile a list of courses that s/he would like to take and that would fulfill requirements so that if one course is not available at registration, another one on the list can be substituted. After meeting with his/her adviser, the student should register as soon as possible after his/her assigned registration time to maximize the chances of getting the courses s/he needs. If the student does not get a desired course, s/he should place his/her name on a waiting list for the course and watch for openings in the courses regularly after the registration period has ended. It is important that th student not register for and take courses that will not fulfill graduation requirements. While such courses are undoubtedly valuable for the information and concepts they convey to the student, too many of them will take the place of courses that do fulfill requirements and will htus delay the student's graduation date.
7. Students should note that remedial courses do not count toward gradution requirements and that taking such courses can contribute to a delay in graduation date or may necessitate taking a Summer or Winter session course.
8. Students should keep documentation that requirements have been satisfied (e.g., advising meeting attendance, advising records and instructions, degree audit sheets, etc.) and regularly monitor their progress to catch any potential problems before they are difficult to correct. The DARS report should facilitate this process.
9. To insure graduation within four years, it is important that each student earns a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 per semester so that an overall cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 can be maintained. As a corollary to this, a student should earn grades of C or better in all course work required for the major and have a cumulative GPA of 2.00 in all major course work attempted. While this is not a requirement, it will help the student maintain a suitable cumulative GPA. Students should also be aware that some majors/options may have more rigorous requirements for retention in the major. for these majors/options a cumulative GPA of 2.0 may not be sufficient to continue with the junior/senior years of a program. Furthermore, students should remember that failing grades are very likely to delay graduation since they often require course repeats and thus additional time.
10. The student should notify the University in writing through the graduation application of his/her intent to graduate at the proper time.

What Can the Unviersity Do to Increase the Number/Percentage of Students Graduating Within Four Years?

When compared nationally and with other State-System universities, Millersville University has done a good job of creating an environment that facilities graduation within the normally accepted four year period. However, there is room for improvement. While the student is ultimately responsible for the progress of his/her academic career, it is the responsibility of the University through its policies and offerings to maximize the number/percentage of students who can compelte the baccalaureate degree in four years. It is the belief of the committee that a number of strategies will make it easier for students to finish their education in four years, perhaps elevate the percentages somewhat and eliminate some confusion that exists in some members of the student body. Such responsibility largely encompasses properly staffing the Unviersity with a sufficient number of faculty members to satisfy the demands of the student body and offering the appropriate number of courses to satisfy those demands. Many faculty members feel strongly that this should not be accomplished by increasing student-faculty ratios to the extent that learning suffers.

Recommended Student Schedule-Planning Aids

1. The University should improve the information students are provided to assist them in planning their academic schedules and consequent improvements in academic advisement. There should be clear statements in the University catalog about majors/options that routinely take longer than four years to complete. Sample schedules for each major/option demonstrating the kinds of strategies students can use to complete the major within four years should be prepared and distributed. These schedules could be prepared on a semester-by-semester or year-by-year basis. Each department should determine which type of sample schedule works best with each major. It should be emphasized that such sample schedules are examples and not required. The major purpose of these schedules would be to demonstrate that a four year degree is possible and how it can be done.
2. Advisors should be assigned to get the best fit between the discipline of the advisor and the most likely major for the student. When possible, undeclared students should also be paired with an appropriate advisor in their most likely major. The University should continue to improve academic advisement and review academic policies that may be responsible for slowing down student academic progress without eliminating rigor within the program, e.g. changes in the General Education curriculum, changes in major requirements, etc.
3. The University should widely publicize the fact that a minimum of 15 sh/semester is required for a student to graduate within four years.
4. We should add to the Unviersity catalog a statement, perhaps in the form of a code, indicating when each course will normally be taught 9in the Fall, in the spring, in both semesters or in the summer/winter sessions). This should be done as soon as possible. It will help students to develop a long-term plan for their academic careers.
5. Students and faculty may be unaware that soon after preregistration closes, registration reopens and remains open until the day before the first class of the next semester begins. Better publicity about this might help students clean up their schedules in a more timely fashion.
6. Pamphlets (Do You Want to Graduate in Four Years?) should be prepared for distribution to the student body listing the things that students must do in order to assure they graduate in a timely fashion. Inlcuded in the pamphlet should be lists of behaviors that can delay graduation: low credit load, dropping courses, failing courses, courses that do not fulfill requirements, delayed entry into prerequisite courses, D's in prerequisite courses, late declaration of majors, etc.
7. Students should be told that internships and co-ops can sometimes delay graduation.
8. The University should emphasize a large majority of C's can lead to academic difficulty. While a C is a respectable grade and is considered to be indicative of satisfactory work, higher grades are needed to balance grades below a C.

Registration-Related Recommendations

1. It may be useful to conduct a separate survey indicating what courses students intend to take two semesters in the future (for example, registration in Spring 1997 for classes students intend to take in Spring 1998). Such advance information may help department chairs to plan more accurately when they are putting together their schedules. An added advantage of this approach may be that students will plan their schedules farther in advance than they presently do.
2. The role of waiting lists should be clarified for both faculty and students.
3. The University should provide courses as needed. For example, if the need for a required related course or a course within the major becomes evident during registration, resources should be obtained and made available to provide another section or sections of the course if necessary. The University should also strive to offer remedial, prerequiste and core courses during the Summer and Winter sessions to provide an opportunity for students to "catch up" if they should fall behind by failing a course or if they are unable to obtain such courses during the Fall or Spring semester.
4. The 16 credit registration limit at Registration should be lifted for students who are dual majors with cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or higher.
5. Students hould be allowed to register for null courses. Since students often register for courses they do not intend to take when the courses they want are unavailable at registration, it is difficult to make appropriate adjustments by offering new sections and canceling courses that are undersubscribed. Null course registration should lead to better enrollment management information making it easier to effect appropriate scheduling adjustments. Students could then change their registration later once compensatory changes have been made.

SUMMARY

The above issues were considered as a first step in invesitgating the feasibility of a four year degree commitment to our students, similar to that imposed on state-affiliated schools in Iowa. It is the judgment of the committee that we can accomplish the goals of the four year commitment without entering into a contractual agreement that would require additional bureaucracy to monitor and may cause unforeseeable problems. It would be difficult to administer and monitor and might lead to student frustration resulting from attempts to adhere to a detailed set of rules. Furthermore, the Committee believes that it could create as much bad will as good will and could conceivably be counterproductive. In its first year at the University of Iowa, this program experienced 50% participation by freshmen; at Iowa State University, only 146 entering freshmen enrolled in the program's first year. There was a small increase in the number of credits taken per semester by enrollees relative to non-participants (14.16 compared to 13.58), both of which are below the 15 credits per semester required for graduation within 4 years. There was a higher cumulative GPA within the group of participants; better students may be more likely to participate.

We feel that increased effort in heightening student awareness of what is needed to ensure graduation within four years will improve graduation rates without much added cost or bureaucracy. This will serve to clarify the process and give students more guidance on what they need to do if they want to graduate within four years and should foster a decreased level of frustration with the system without the added risk and difficulty of a contract.

We have come to realize while investigating the issue of a four-year commitment that a number of matters that we have considered impact the above issue but also affect the day-to-day activities at the University and problems that often exist. We, therefore, recommend that the Unviersity embark upon a study of issues related to registration and scheduling and the distribution to students of information related to those topics in the hope that the associated procedures can be streamlined and made more efficient and workable for everyone.


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