Making it Easier for Students to Graduate Sooner

illustration of an article

Encouraging students to graduate on time (or early) is a priority for many higher ed institutions. However, many students find speedy degree completion difficult due to obstacles in securing the courses they need to complete degree requirements. Lucie Lapovsky, president of Lapovsky Consulting and past president of Mercy College, offers some advice on correcting curriculum inefficiencies that can prevent students from graduating quickly.

Look for Inefficiency in Academic Advising

“It needs to be very clear to students what courses count toward their major and what courses do not. Their degree audit needs to happen quarter by quarter or semester by semester.”
Lucie Lapovsky, Lapovsky Consulting

“Students can so easily be misadvised,” Lapovsky warns. “They may take the wrong courses, and they may complete the credit hour requirement without having completed the required courses.” Getting false information to students is a risk both because academic advisors often have a high load and because catalogs and requirements are updated frequently. This can make it difficult for either students or advisers to keep track.

Lapovsky suggests letting students do their own degree audits regularly. “Make the degree audit available online.” An online audit can keep both students and advisers up to date. Many registrars already use effective online programs, often for a degree audit in the spring of the junior year. Lapovsky recommends having these programs shared out with academic departments and with students. Give the program an easy web-based end user interface. The ability to produce a degree audit quickly will empower students to make smarter choices.

Ensure Students Can Get Required Courses

As schools become more crowded — particularly public institutions with rising enrollments — students may get closed out of full courses. Inability to secure prerequisites can cause a delay in graduation of a term or in some cases a full year. This is especially a risk now, as institutions that are tight on resources may be hesitant to open new sections of a course unless absolutely needed.

“Does your institution give priority to students taking a course as a prerequisite, over students who are taking a course as an elective?”
Lucie Lapovsky, Lapovsky Consulting

“There aren’t great solutions to this problem,” Lapovsky warns. “You’ll have to be creative.” The best initial step is to map out your curriculum and establish a system that ensures that students who need a course for a prerequisite in their major have first priority at registration. Once you have done that, look for alternative means of getting students into courses that they need in order to fulfill requirements. For example, if a course is full, find opportunities for a student to take an online course or a comparable course at a nearby institution — and ensure that the credit will transfer quickly.

Audit Your Curriculum

How many credits are needed to graduate? Majors with higher credit requirements are costlier, so make sure that if you have them, it’s because they are necessary. A few years ago, one major public university system required all academic departments with degree requirements in excess of a certain number of required credits to justify the reason for it to the board of regents.

Offer Students More Flexibility

Beyond removing obstacles to graduating on schedule, also increase opportunities for early graduation. This can include:

  • Providing opportunities for students to go to school year round
  • Providing online opportunities that will fit better into complex schedules (particularly for non-traditional or adult students
  • Providing flexible scheduling

Finally, look for opportunities to help students enter the degree program with more credits at the start. As part of your outreach to students at pipeline secondary institutions, encourage students to take advanced placement tests. Make sure that your institution has mechanisms in place for prior learning assessment and for granting credit for life experience. “As more military veterans and adult students come in with fulsome resumes, make this a priority,” Lapovsky advises.