Advisement tool for students still in development
DegreeWorks hasn’t been around for too long, but students at UTPA are already familiar with the role it plays in advisement. However, there are still some issues that the registrar’s office is ironing out.
The program is designed to help a student track their completed and pending classes for graduation, and became available through ASSIST in spring 2012.
A very noticeable disclaimer at the bottom of the page informs users that DegreeWorks is not intended to replace one’s adviser, but is rather considered an advisement tool. It also helps a student calculate their grade point average and predict future GPAs by inputting additional classes with anticipated grades.
This program has helped the registrar’s office efficiency when it comes to planning classes for the upcoming semester. With DegreeWorks, the office can predict future semester classes depending on how far along a student is on the degree process.
The software was purchased in Spring 2011 from Ellucian for $300,000, paid for by standard operating funds (budgeted University monies). President Robert Nelsen became interested in the software when he saw it functioning at his former home, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, according to Jeff Rhodes, registrar.
“We want students to graduate in the shortest amount of time possible and take only the classes that they absolutely need for their degree,” Rhodes said. “That’s what DegreeWorks does. It lets the students know exactly what courses they need to get their degree so that they don’t waste time taking classes that are unnecessary.”
According to Nelsen at the 2011 fall convocation, an average student takes 165 credit hours, but only earns 141 credit hours at UTPA. However, a typical degree plan only requires 124 credit hours.
In 2011, the four-year graduation rate at UTPA was 15.6 percent. That means that out of 100 students who started at UTPA, on average about 16 graduated in four years, or on time, in other words.
In order to raise both of these statistics and solve what the University perceives as a problem, DegreeWorks was introduced.
In Rhodes’ opinion, the first semester the software received good feedback. In the most recent survey taken at the end of last semester, 51 percent of students agreed that DegreeWorks is an effective advisement tool.
“What I’ve seen from other systems is that they are not very user-friendly,” he said. “What DegreeWorks does is put (class progress) in student-speak. It builds a very simple checklist and says, ‘Here are the courses you need. Here are the options.’ And when they’re completed, it checks them off.”
Because DegreeWorks is a fairly new deal, there are still some kinks that need to be sorted with the software. Graduate students at UTPA are still not able to use it. The degree plans for graduate students are “much more sticky,” Rhodes said.
The graduate degree plans are more complicated because their classes are more specialized, so the registrar’s office is working toward having those degree plans online by the end of next spring as a “soft target,” Rhodes said.
Along with the graduate implementation to DegreeWorks, the registrar’s office is also planning to set aside two weeks this spring to fix any road bumps, such as updated degree plans, with the software.
Also, in the case that a student’s major or concentration is incorrect in DegreeWorks, Rhodes recommends that the student turn in a change-of-major form to the registrar’s office. There is a simpler, updated version of the form available online at their UTPA page.
“There was a lot of missing data, especially the tracks (for degrees),” Rhodes added. “That data actually resided in the departmental offices and had not been reported to us, so we’ve been working very hard to get students to fill out the form.”
Ayssa Cabrera has found DegreeWorks to be a useful tool as she maps out future classes.
“It was helpful and it made my degree plan pretty clear to me,” the 20-year-old accounting major said. “I recommend it to my friends because it’s pretty efficient. You get to see what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you need to do when it comes to classes.”
Cabrera also likes a feature that informs her of prerequisites she may need for a class, saving her from having to call the registrar’s office and ask.
However, Adriana Ramon doesn’t see DegreeWorks as a useful tool. The nursing major believes it could be more user-friendly.
“I couldn’t understand how it works,” the 18-year-old said. “I was really confused by the percentage bar. It was saying I already had a percentage but I don’t know how that works since I just started taking classes.”
But Hugo Sanchez, a criminal justice major, agrees with Cabrera. He put his appreciation for the program in simple terms.
“DegreeWorks is like an adviser,” he suggested.