How *not* to finish an undergraduate degree

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 12, 2010 in Randomness | Subscribe

Hi folks! :D

Time is a bit short tonight, so the draft post I mentioned yesterday isn’t going to get finished and I don’t have time to cobble up + proofread anything else.

So in its place I’m offering a tip based on this news article from the News & Observer: don’t do what I did :beatup:

New chancellor would make changing majors easier at NCSU
BY ERIC FERRERI – Staff Writer
Published Fri, Nov 12, 2010 04:49 AM (Modified Fri, Nov 12, 2010 05:24 AM)
Tags: local | news

RALEIGH — By the time Greg Doucette realized he was lousy at studying computer science at N.C. State University, it was too late.

Doucette was formerly a student at NCSU. 'I enjoyed computer science, but I wasn't very good at it,' he said. (Photo by HARRY LYNCH - hlynch@newsobserver.com)

Too late to change his major. Too late to transfer. Too late to do anything except slog through with a barely passable grade point average. He managed by propping up that GPA with stellar grades in economics and political science courses – two disciplines he would have preferred majoring in if switching weren’t so difficult.

NCSU’s new chancellor, Randy Woodson, knows that Doucette’s travails are not unusual at the university. He wants to make it easier for students to change majors. The issue will be tackled by a task force looking for ways to improve student success.

Woodson hopes to reduce the number of students who leave NCSU not because of bad grades but because changing majors is so difficult.

NCSU incoming freshmen apply directly into their chosen fields. It’s a way to introduce students to major-specific courses early, assuring they have enough time to tackle all the technical courses needed for a degree in engineering, design, textiles and the like.

But if students don’t choose the right major the first time, they may be stuck in a discipline they don’t like or transfer out of the university in search of a new path.

Many of NCSU’s academic disciplines require targeted, specific coursework that doesn’t translate to other areas. Students who change course essentially have to start over building credits for their new majors, thus lengthening their stay in college.

NCSU’s six-year graduation rate of 73 percent could be far better, Woodson said, if changing majors was easier.

From fall 2008 to fall 2009, 1,109 students left NCSU while in good academic standing, according to university data. Many of those left, Woodson said, because they were in the wrong major and couldn’t transfer enough credits to stay on track to graduate on time.

“We’ve got really talented students, and they’re not being successful enough,” Woodson said. “We’re losing too many students because they can’t find a home.”

Other universities

This problem isn’t unique to NCSU. Across the United States, land-grant universities with strong programs in engineering, natural resources, design and other technical disciplines require a similar path. In contrast, a university with an arts-and-sciences base, such as UNC-Chapel Hill, enrolls students first to an undergraduate college before making them decide on a major.

In admitting students directly to their chosen field, universities like NCSU create a more efficient academic experience for students – as long as they don’t change their minds, said David Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

To ease the transition for the many students who do want to change, many land-grant universities are now adopting principles of a “common core” curriculum. Used more often by universities with an arts and sciences base, a common core is essentially a standard set of courses in English, writing, and mathematics that a student would take in the first two years. These courses are recognized widely, making it easier for a student to change majors within a university or transfer to another.

It may not be an easy fix for NCSU, where students start major-specific coursework during their first year. But at a time when students don’t want to pay for extra schooling, many universities are looking for ways to tweak their requirements, said Shulenburger, formerly the longtime provost at the University of Kansas.

“Every university now understands higher graduation rates and shorter time to degree are important,” he said. “It’s worth having the faculty sit down and wrestle with the question of giving students some flexibility in the freshman and sophomore years.”

Advising’s importance

If you’re a freshman studying animal science at NCSU, you’ll take general courses in math and writing as well as classes specific to that degree. The university tries to minimize the number of courses that don’t transfer, said Gerry Luginbuhl, assistant director for academic programs within NCSU’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. But students also must get good advice both when choosing a major and when they arrive on campus.

“Advising is so important,” Luginbuhl said. “Students, at 18, some really don’t know what they want to do.”

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4563

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SIDEBAR – One student’s story

Greg Doucette, 29, is now a second-year law student at N.C. Central University. (Photo by HARRY LYNCH - hlynch@newsobserver.com)

Greg Doucette, as a freshman at N.C. State University, signed on as a computer science major because he had some tech savvy and knew the field paid well.

But he hit a wall in a discrete mathematics course, which he failed. By then, it was too late to transfer into economics or political science because, either way, he’d have to take an extra year of courses.

Instead, Doucette took just enough of those courses for a minor in each. His GPA in computer science: 2.1. His GPA in political science: 3.0. His GPA in economics: 3.6.

He’s now a law student at N.C. Central University.

“I enjoyed computer science, but I wasn’t very good at it,” said Doucette, who became a student leader and eventually served as the sole student member of the UNC system’s Board of Governors. “I love economics and political science, but the tradeoff wasn’t worth it. A lot of the credits I had would not translate to anything useful.”

Staff writer Eric Ferreri

My Economics GPA would have been a perfect 4.0 if it wasn’t for me slacking in my Intro to Econ course my freshman year :mad: ¬†At least I got an A in that Discrete Mathematics course the second time around? :beatup:

Have a great night y’all! Hopefully I’ll have something other than shameless self-promotion tomorrow! ;)

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