U policy increases credit loads

Josh Linehan

Faced with low six-year graduation rates, University administrators implemented a new credit minimum to improve the situation.

The new 13-credit policy appears to be affecting credit loads not just of incoming freshmen, but also of returning students.

According to enrollment figures released by the University on Friday, all but 1.1 percent of incoming freshmen registered under the 13-credit minimum requirement. Freshmen and incoming transfer students were required to pay for 13 credits whether they registered for them, barring an appeal process. The policy decreased the number of new students registering for a part-time load by 7.8 percent.

The new policy – which offers all students free tuition for each credit taken over the 13-credit minimum – also encouraged continuing students to register for more courses. After the percentage of continuing students registering for fewer than 13 credits dropped from 40 percent to 35 percent over the past three years, it fell more than 11 percent this year. All but 26 percent of continuing University students registered for at least 13 credits.

Vice Provost Craig Swan, who helped conceive the 13-credit proposal with the Council of Undergraduate Deans, said the numbers suggest the University is headed in the right direction.

“I’m very encouraged by these statistics,” Swan said. “It’s almost tautological, but one of the best predictors of graduation rates is the number of students who are registered full time.”

Transfer students, a high percentage of whom traditionally enroll part time, also registered for heavier loads. Just 14.3 percent of transfers registered for fewer than 13 credits, down from 34.8 percent last year.

The average credit load at the University increased from 13.3 to 13.9, and the average credit load for freshmen is above 15 for the first time in five years.

Though early results are improved, the University isn’t done finalizing its policies to increase graduation rates. And there are still several bumps in the road.

Despite double-digit tuition increases the past two years, University admissions are up again, to 62,789 system-wide. The largest increases came in Duluth – up 4.6 percent to 9,815 – and at the Twin Cities, which now claims 48,677 students, up 4.5 percent.

While those numbers show a continued interest in the school, they also mean that all continuing students not registered for 13 credits – 5,485 on the Twin Cities campus alone – who didn’t file a request to waive the minimum will be bumped to the end of their registration period for the spring semester.

The small number of freshmen who didn’t file an appeal will be billed for 13 credits regardless of how many credits for which they are enrolled.

“There may be some students who assumed they weren’t affected at all,” Swan said. “If they filed an appeal they’ll be fine. Otherwise they’ll be surprised by their bill.”

Swan said he hoped most students who fell into one of the affected categories would realize their predicament and take appropriate action when they University bill in the mail.

Swan also outlined the rest of the steps mandated after the Council of Undergraduate Deans report last summer shattered some conventional wisdom about the University’s low graduation rate.

In October, Swan said, new Academic Progress Audit System reports debut online. The new forms will not only be easier to read than their predecessors, but will also allow students to project their futures in various majors and see expected finishing times on the Web site.

In addition, students visiting their advisers should see an increase in available staff and resources after the deans offered individual colleges up to $200,000 if they matched the amount and diverted it to advising. The College of Liberal Arts, for example, used the money to hire more advisers.

Also at the request of the deans, several colleges re-evaluated some of their major programs that required more than 120 credits for graduation.

All of these changes are designed to help students declare a major by their third year and graduate by their fifth. The idea is to save students money by getting them in the work force at a younger age and save the University money by economizing student use of its resources.

“Obviously, it’s OK for freshmen to be undecided,” Swan said. “But by the time you’re a junior, is it OK? Students do need a process that will lead to a decision, and ultimately, graduation.”