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A Registrar’s View: Will You Graduate?

One of the most enchanting segments of the academic year, the build-up to Spring graduation and commencement signifies the highlight of college matriculation and persistence. Yet, the experience can be plagued with confusion and curricular dysfunction as students attend to the inner workings and step-by-step preparation of a process that, at times, begs the question, “Will I graduate?”

Harrison P. JohnsonHarrison P. JohnsonFinding the balance of what is on the academic records, juxtaposed with irregular course offerings, is a challenge that many registrar offices battle leading up to this important demarcation in their students’ lives.

In the current moment, many of my colleagues are on the front-line combing through records and various document management systems looking for the answer to whether students completed their degree requirements — did they graduate? All institutions of higher learning have the source of truth in the form of an academic catalog or bulletin. These documents, whether digitally published or printed, hold the contract as to what degree requirements are currently in place or in past publications, and they represent requirements upon matriculation that students are expected to complete and academic departments are expected to teach. What isn’t clear is that there are institutional factors that lead to the student not completing their degree requirements.

Curriculum proposing and processing is the first culprit in what I would consider the demise of a student’s dreams of completing their educational journey. The literal and physical road map to an academic record begins with what faculty identify as the course work and field experience necessary to represent the academy beyond its respective institutions in the workforce and in research. Many students persist through programs and take courses at the advisement of their departments that were not fully implemented or formally adopted to a curriculum in a published catalog or bulletin. 

Another issue that institutions of higher learning find that deters a completed graduation record is the availability of qualified faculty to teach in respective areas. Like the curriculum processing, there are academic departments that abandon concentrations within their majors because of the lack of faculty available to teach the course. Courses that remain active on a curriculum go semesters and years without being taught, but students are guided to take other courses to supplement these requirements. This could be courses in another discipline with similar student learning outcomes or courses in the same discipline with available faculty. The issue is that this practice happens without consulting an official record of substitution in the registrar offices and, therefore, is a delay in degree audit and award as the continual back and forth between registrar office, department, and academic affairs impedes and often jeopardizes the process of graduation.

The internal battle of academic advising, whether it be centralized or decentralized, has caused many students to get to their final semesters and be told they are still in need of one or more requirements. Institutions of higher learning have a mixed method of holistic advising to which there are dedicated administrative staff, either at the first two years or sometimes throughout the four years, who advise students on which courses to take to complete their degree requirements. There are some institutions that allow students to be advised by their major only once they have declared one, and there are others that allow for the major advisor and the professional or administrative advisor to assist students with course selection to complete their requirements. Although these efforts can be said to provide total support in the registrar world, it can be total chaos when it is the end of a semester and multiple points of contact are needed to determine what to use for the missing degree requirements. The “inclusive” approach to course counseling and scheduling throughout the student’s time at an institution reveals its limitations and complications in the final hour.

After speaking with colleagues from across the northeast at our regional professional conference held recently, I am assured that the issues of graduation clearance are not relegated to institutional type but can be equivocally applied to institutions alike and dissimilar. There must be a collective effort made so that degree requirements are placed in one source of truth complemented by an agreeable advising model. Finally, academic departments should formally adjust catalogs so that offerings represent current courses taught and available faculty.   

- Dr. Harrison P. Johnson is University Registrar at Lincoln University.

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