UND is enacting a series of internal policy changes intended to boost student retention and completion rates through measures such as cutting the number of credits needed to graduate. University Provost Tom DiLorenzo describes the eight revised policies as part of an ongoing process of "making it easier for students to break down barriers to get through school."
"Not easier academically," he added, but in the structural features students might encounter as they do things like transfer into UND, pursue multiple degrees at the same time or try to graduate in four years. Taken as a whole, the policy shift serves to carry out a portion of the university's overarching strategic plan.
Scott Correll, UND registrar, took office last summer and has focused in part on clearing policies that appear to have caused roadblocks for students in the past. That internal reckoning also took into account measures regarded as best practice elsewhere in the landscape of higher education. The eight policies that ended up being rewritten were chosen in the interest of reaching the greatest number of students, Correll said.
Moving forward, students will see a reduction in the minimum number of credits needed to graduate. That benchmark will be knocked from 125 to 120 credit hours, with some discretion given to colleges and departments as to how curriculums will reflect the cut.
"For the student, that's huge," DiLorenzo said.
UND associate professor Dana Harsell, who also is the former chair of the University Senate, echoed that feeling. Harsell said the policy reducing credit hours for graduation has probably drawn the most attention, though he added the 120 credit benchmark is in line with policy at North Dakota State University and other peer institutions. He thought the reduced credit requirement was overall a good change and described the other policy revisions as making things "less onerous" for faculty, staff and students.
"As people transfer to a new way of doing things, I think they're going to be pleased," he said.
Many of the rewritten policies are aimed at students transferring into UND. Policy shifts will allow transfer hours from any national accrediting organization recognized by specific academic bodies while removing a 60 credit minimum requirement for transfer students.
They'll also reduce the number of higher ed credits required to verify high school graduation from 60 credits to 24. Correll said the past high school verification policy has been problematic when adult students with some-but not enough-college credits were required to "go back to high schools that are now nonexistent" to pull up their transcripts.
Beyond transfers, the other rewritten policies target degree completion. One policy should make it easier for students to "double count" coursework toward the total credit hours needed to complete multiple degrees. Another removes a 155 credit limit at UND, allowing students to earn a second bachelor's so long as they've completed essential study and degree program requirements.
For military members and their families, or at least those who might otherwise have to pick up and leave Grand Forks, the policy changes strike a requirement that a student's final 30 credits must be earned at UND to earn a degree from the institution.
The last policy change allows the registrar to make routine grade changes-as signed off by instructors or leaders in a dean's office-within one year after the end of a course.
DiLorenzo hinted that he'd be open to rewriting more policies in the future if they seem to have outlived their purpose. Correll didn't have any further revisions in mind yet, but said his office wasn't done examining the more bureaucratic side of education at UND.
"We will continue to examine all of our policies and procedures to see if they are doing the job they were intended to do," Correll said.