Mandating 13 credits not best solution

University President Mark Yudof and Provost Bob Bruininks are considering several measures aimed at raising the University’s six-year graduation rate. Included in these measures are proposals to provide students with mid-term grade reports, developing full-year registration for new students and increasing the level of academic advising available to students. These proposals to improve communication between the University and students could have beneficial effects for students and result in rising graduation rates. Unfortunately the University is not confident these measures alone will improve the graduation rates to the desired levels. Yudof and Bruininks seek to require all students receive explicit permission before being allowed to register for fewer than 13 credits.

Several other universities have adopted policies requiring a minimum credit load without an exemption – including the University of California-Berkeley. There a student can receive an exemption if he or she works 15 or more hours per week, has family responsibilities, is a graduating senior or has health problems. In his memo to college deans, President Yudof suggests work should only be a permissible exemption “due to financial hardship.” Given the diverse background of students at the University, establishing a draconian measure forcing students to demonstrate their own financial hardship is inappropriate and an invasion of student privacy. Furthermore, creating the necessary administrative infrastructure to manage such a system would use resources better utilized elsewhere.

The University has several reasons for seeking to raise graduation rates. The low rates have a detrimental effect on the University’s ranking in publications such as U.S. News and World report. But improving the University’s prestige, although a consideration, should not be the impetus for detrimental policy. The Council of Undergraduate Deans cites several other reasons that low gradation rates are a problem. The longer it takes a student to graduate, the more it will cost them and the University, the council stated. Additionally, the longer students spend at the University working on their degree, the less likely it is they will make it to graduation.

The council acknowledges the University’s role in the low gradation rates. In their report they recognize the “lack of clear and explicit institutional expectations,” for students. In recent years the University has worked to remedy some of these; it now requires students to declare a major upon completion of 60 credits. A “non-graduation culture” where students are less inclined to make progress toward their degrees has been identified as a problem. Mandating student credit loads might work to change this culture, but at a cost far greater than the benefits.