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Strategies to ensure a timely graduation

Submitted by Sarah DeClerk on January 9, 2013 – 6:52 pm2 Comments

Fall graduates listen to a commencement address at the Jack Stephens Center on Thursday, Dec. 20. Photo by Jennifer Ellis

Theoretically, a student can earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, but first-time entering students at UALR take an average of 7.3 years to graduate, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Taking more than four years to earn a degree can hinder students who need help paying for school because academic scholarships are not renewable after four years, said Stephanie Conrad, private scholarship coordinator. Students receiving federal financial aid must show progress toward a degree, and can lose their aid after 180 hours under the Satisfactory Academic Progress policy. Students who reach that limit can apply for private scholarships, most of which do not cover full tuition, Conrad said.

Fortunately, students can save time and credit hours in a number of ways:

1. It is crucial for students to keep in touch with their advisers, said Daryl Rice, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. UALR students must be advised to register, but they do not always stick to the plan their adviser laid out. “Don’t go and change your schedule on a whim afterward,” Rice said, cautioning that classes selected without advisement could count as nothing but wasted hours.

2. Students can plan for graduation sooner by declaring their majors early. “The sooner they can fix on a particular objective, the better off they’ll be,” Rice said. Preferably, students should declare their major after freshman year or after taking 30 to 45 hours, he said. But At the absolute latest, students should declare their major after 60 hours. Concentrating on their majors early on can ensure that students take classes that count toward their majors. For example, students can avoid unnecessary general education courses by choosing the core courses that are required by their major.

3. Students should align their interests with their abilities when choosing a major. A medical student who dislikes math and science will surely have a difficult time, Rice said. But picking a single major out of the more than 50 choices offered at UALR can be understandably overwhelming. So Rice suggested students narrow their choices by taking the career assessment testing offered by Career Services.

4. Taking certain classes right away can keep students from running into trouble later. Students who need remedial classes should take them right away, Rice advised. “Get on them,” he said. Students are more likely to drop out the longer they spend on those courses. Also, students who loathe math may not take college algebra until their senior year, he observed, and added that it is better to take it early on; students do not get any better at math by waiting. In addition, Rice said he advises students in sequenced courses, such as foreign languages, “Don’t sit out for a semester. If you sit out, you’ll struggle when you get to the second level.”

5. Students can save time and hours by being smart about dropping classes. Before students drop a class, they should talk to their instructors, Rice said; they may be doing better in the course than they assume. Also, students should talk to their academic adviser, to see how the drop will affect their overall plan for graduation, and their financial aid adviser, to make sure that they will still have enough hours to be eligible for aid. Additionally, Rice suggested students check to see when the course will be offered again, because it might not be available the next semester. Sometimes, students will drop a class because they have a low, but passing, grade. Each retake adds to the number of hours a student has attempted. Although students should strive for the highest grade they can make, sometimes it is best to “eat the C” and move on, Rice said. If a student must drop a class because of an overwhelming course load, they should try to drop an elective so it will be easier to make up the requirement, he said.

Although these suggestions are aimed at students who entered UALR as first-time freshmen, transfer students can also benefit from reducing the number of hours they take to graduate. Although most lower-level courses from accredited, in-state colleges are automatically transferable under the Arkansas Course Transfer System, upper-level courses require review, Rice said. He warned students against taking lower-level community college courses that will not count toward their degrees at UALR. To prevent this, he said, UALR has been working with two-year institutions to help students match the courses they are taking there with their degree plans at UALR. Students taking supplemental courses outside of UALR should check with their adviser for transferability.

Following these strategies can help students limit the number of classes that they have to take to graduate. “The whole strategy is to avoid wasted hours,” Rice said. If students are smart about college, they can make every credit count.