To improve retention rates, several policy updates and revisions will be implemented by Spring 2012.
For many college students, the four-year plan can seem like an unattainable goal. According to a study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute and reported by USA Today in 2009, an average of 53 percent of students at four-year institutions are graduating within six years. The study also found outliers, such as Harvard University, whose six-year matriculation rate is 97 percent.
Temple falls about midway, with 67 percent of students matriculating in six years, Peter Jones, the senior vice provost of undergraduate studies, said. With approximately 26,200 undergraduate students, nearly two-thirds of Temple students seeking bachelor’s degrees will require six years and thousands of dollars in financial aid, loans and grants to do so.
This is where Jones’ 25 years at Temple are crucial. He and other administrators have been in discussion for more than a year planning how to help seniors graduate on time. To achieve this, five academic policies were amended and created to promote academic progress, to help students graduate on time and to help “students and Temple not get lost,” said Hillel Hoffmann, the assistant director of news communications. The university will announce the changes this week.
Discussions began with the Educational Policies and Procedures Committee when concerns arose of students taking courses multiple times without coming to the attention of the dean. Jones said students were crawling deeper into debt without getting a degree.
Four of the five new academic policies include changes to existing ones: course repetition, course withdrawals, academic standing and academic forgiveness. The fifth policy is completely new to Temple’s academic policies – a leave of absence for undergraduate students.
Currently, there is no ceiling on the number of times a student can retake a particular course. The second time a course is retaken, the higher grade is counted on a student’s GPA; with all successive retakes, the lowest grade is dropped, and the remaining grades are averaged into a GPA.
“Students are retaking courses six, seven, often eight times,” Jones said. “The university [is stepping] in to help that student to ensure they don’t fail it again.”
The new policy allows students to retake a course only once. Any successive retakes require special permission from the dean. The modified policy will be implemented in Spring 2012 to give students one year to right their wrongs. Once a student retakes a course after the implementation, only the highest grade counts toward the GPA.
In addition, the course repetition policy requires students to pass English 0802, intellectual heritage I and II within three attempts or else the student will be dismissed from Temple.
Prior to the academic policy changes, a cap existed, allowing students to withdraw from a class five times. With the new policy, withdrawing from a course now counts as taking the course once. In conjunction with the course repetition policy, the five-withdrawal cap ceases to exist as students may only take a course twice.
The only exception to this policy is medical leave – a policy that has not changed.
“Currently, if a student is performing poorly at Temple, the student has academic rights that they are read, and the university places them into different categories,” Jones said.
These three categories are academic warning, academic probation and dismissal, Jones said. If a student passes more than 30 credits with a low GPA, he or she is given an academic warning.
As per the requirements of academic warnings, a certain GPA is required during the next semester, or the student is on academic probation. If that GPA is not reached, grounds for academic dismissal exist and the student must wait five years to re-apply.
If a student is dismissed, they are still permitted to register for conditional status, a situation in which a student is given two years or 40 credits to remedy the academic situation.
Under the new system, this conditional status will cease to exist. Jones said only about 20 percent of students under the conditional status returned to Temple. If the student fails to improve during his or her academic probation, he or she will be formally dismissed and have to wait four years before re-applying to Temple.
At the end of the current semester, any student currently on conditional status will be moved back to academic probation for the fall.
Temple’s retention rate is 88 percent as of 2009. But for the remaining 12 percent of students who fail to graduate, academic forgiveness permits them to come back after waiting five years and re-applying.
“Under [the new] policy, students will be treated the same way as a transfer student,” Jones said. “All grades of C-minus and better will transfer as valid credits and the GPA is reset to 0.00. They will lose some credits, but they win on the GPA side.”
All classes before academic forgiveness, however, will remain on the student’s transcript.
Leaves of Absence
Previously, leaves of absence for a specific period of time have been reserved solely for graduate and professional students but never undergraduate students. The terms of a leave of absence include continuous engagement with the university and re-enrolling instead of re-applying to return.
This new addition to the acadmic policy allows undergraduate students to take a leave of absence and return without side effects. If a degree program changed in required classes or grades while a student was on an excused leave, the new degree program would apply upon their return.
The policy is now changing to allow excused students to return on their original degree program. It also allows them to keep their TUmail accounts and retain library privileges.
Hoffmann cited junior Tyler Grady as one of the preliminary examples that encouraged allowing undergraduate students to take leave of absences.
Grady, a junior psychology major, appeared on the ninth season of “American Idol.” He returned to Temple in the Fall 2010 semester as a second-semester sophomore.
Administrators allowed returning students to retain former degree programs to promote an expidited graduation.
Speedier graduation was one of the prime precipitators to the changes in Temple’s academic policy. Administrators found students on the five- or six-year track were eating away at financial aid. The funds they took for graduating in six years detracts from two years of another student’s fiancial aid.
Although problems with the retention rate and course makeups have existed for some time, the changes are being implemented now in conjunction with the Banner system.
“There were attempts in the past, but the new Banner system allows the computer system to know the student’s academic history,” Jones said. “The former system wouldn’t know.”
This discrepancy is crucial, as the current OWLnet is incapable of barring a student from retaking a course multiple times.
However, some students think more than just the academic policies need to be changed. Theon Freeman, a senior advertising major, does not plan on graduating until December 2011.
“I changed my major after freshman year,” Freeman said. “I was real estate finance, then I didn’t like the real estate program. I didn’t think it was extensive enough. To my knowledge, it was about two or three real estate classes and a finance major, and, like, that’s not what I was looking for.”
“I switched [my major] second semester of my junior year, and a lot of my credits don’t count,” Freeman said.
Freeman is one of many seniors who won’t be able to leave Temple with the classmates they entered with. Freeman said he blames Temple’s advising.
“I feel like with great planning there is a way [to graduate in four years],” he added. “Something can be said for the advising sessions, because I’ve had my fair share of advising sessions where they said to take this class, and then it turned out I didn’t need that class.”
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at email@example.com.