Graduation rates dictated by registration
Its that time of year again, and we aren’t talking holidays. We’re talking registration and the stress of getting into classes. Will you make it into the class you need that’s only offered once a year? Are you going to be pushing graduation back?
Senior Austen Joeckel is one student who has faced the nightmare scenario of class registration. Joeckel transferred to Western from the College of Southern Nevada in fall 2015.
His dream was to get a degree in computer science, but he said he faced obstacles at almost every turn.
Joeckel, who is now pursuing a degree in business, transferred to Western with over 100 credits. He had not taken any computer science classes, nor did he have the math prerequisites to enter into some computer science courses.
Western’s computer science department restricts high credit students from registering for certain entry-level courses for every quarter except summer. Joeckel said this would push graduating back two years.
“In their attempt to help freshmen and sophomores, people like me who are transfer students are getting the bad end of the stick and it is making it almost impossible for me to graduate with a degree [in computer science],” Joeckel said.
Joeckel said he was heartbroken not being able to take the courses he wanted to. He said it was one thing to restrict a student who doesn’t have enough credits, but unfair to restrict one for having too many.
“If you have too many credits you can’t go backwards, you can’t lose credits, so you are working toward a never-ending hole,” Joeckel said. “It’s making it impossible for me to do what I want to do with my life.”
Computer science department chair Perry Fizzano said in an email to Joeckel in March that the registrar and the computer science department will need this restriction for a few years, because the courses are in high demand. According to the email, the department plans to add more faculty to help address this issue.
“The need for [computer science] classes is outpacing our ability to keep up with it,” Fizzano said in an email to Joeckel.
It takes first-year Western students, who started higher education at Western, an average of 4.6 years to graduate with a computer science degree, and transfer students an average of 3.6 years at Western, according to the Registrar’s office. Some transfer students are coming in with multiple years of school already completed.
The average years to complete a computer science degree includes data from the past six years, not including 2017.
The registrar’s office calculates the data by using a formula that takes the number of ellipsed quarters between a student’s first year at Western and their last year, then divides it by four.
If a student were to start Western in fall 2010 and graduate spring 2014, their years-to-degree data would be represented as 3.75 years.
Western has an average 4.4 years to graduation for incoming freshman. Some degrees require a small number of credits to graduate and are fairly flexible, while others have high credit requirements, and failing to register for a class could set you back months.
Sharon Schmidtz, Western’s associate director of institutional research, said a lot of programs have more than 180 credit requirements to graduate, which can cause students to extend beyond four years.
She said it is much more common for students to graduate between four and six years.
“I would say our four-year rate [for graduation] tends to be low and our six-year rate is very high,” Schmidtz said.
Seventy percent of Western students finish their degree within six years.
Registrar David Brunnemer said his department is the academic record holder of the school and they manage all software systems related to registration.
“There has always been, since the beginning of time, this belief that you get out of school in four years to the day,” Brunnemer said.
Brunnemer said there are positive and negative aspects that affect graduation rates. A student taking a quarter to study abroad may have to push their graduation date back. Another student may be in a program that has a large number of credit requirements.
“One student might be able to have a lot of flexibility and elective use, and complete a degree in four [years],” Brunnemer said. “Another student, if they miss one sequence [of courses], they are out for a year.”
Brunnemer said sometimes the student controls that, other times it’s the university, and other times it is a combination of both.
“Statistically, when anybody seems to care about graduation rates there is this four-year concept that goes back for centuries, and then there is the realities of what happens when people take longer and the hundreds of reasons why they might go longer,” Brunnemer said.
Business and sustainability major Jessica Ramsey is a junior who said still believes in the four-year myth. Ramsey said her parents set the goal for her to graduate in four years and because of that she is doing her best to work within the confines of her major to accomplish graduating on a four year timeline.
“I’m finding that I have to be really on top of tailoring my schedule a lot better,” Ramsey said. “Meeting with advisers ahead of time as soon as you can is definitely important.”
Senior Jacob Rodan is studying elementary education with a focus in developmental psychology. He said he doesn’t know a single person in his program or cohort who is graduating within four years.
Rodan said elementary education is a 105-credit program, which also requires a focus area of study. Rodan is in his fifth year of study.
“I came into Western with 45 to 50 credits from Running Start and this is still my fifth year here,” Rodan said.
Life circumstances like finances, work, or sick family members can also play a role in delaying a student’s graduation. According to a 2015 National Center for Education Statistics report, 43 percent of full-time students are holding a job, and 78 percent of part-time students are working.
Brunnemer also said switching majors, course sequences and whether you are entering into college with certain proficiencies, like math, can play a role in a student’s timeline.
Western is planning to roll out an online advising tool early next quarter called Degree Works, which should help with student plans and advising, Brunnemer said.
Degree Works is a program students and faculty can access, which will display a dashboard of GURs and major requirements to aid students in planning future courses.
“Every single student will be able to log in, they will be able to see their academic record and the software will calculate how they’re doing toward finishing their degree,” Brunnemer said.
When it comes to planning courses, Brunnemer said the registrar’s office opens its system to all the academic departments, who then take their budgets, courses and faculty and begin planning for the next academic year. The registrar’s office then takes all of their info and runs it through filters to analyze where courses are most needed.
“I start doing this crazy gigantic calculation to make it to where, when fall quarter starts, we’re full and most of the students, to the best of my understanding, will be happy,” Brunnemer said.