Anyone with liberal arts experience will tell you that navigating through a course catalogue and completing the various general education requirements (GERs) can be a tough task. Possibly more difficult than mastering the catalogue is choosing—and sticking with—a major. If you ask William & Mary students, in particular, they can tell you that W&M offers a multitude of stimulating and worth-while courses that they can take to fulfill both their GERs and majors. However, students will also mention that up until this point, there has not been a reliable and in depth degree audit system at their disposal. One might describe the current program employed by William & Mary as “clunky” and “unintuitive.” Nevertheless, the university believes that they have solved this problem with a new program called DegreeWorks.
DegreeWorks is degree audit software that will replace the current software used in banner this coming fall. The decision to move forward with DegreeWorks was made in part due to its overall advantages, but also because banner will no longer be updating the Curriculum, Advising and Program Planning (CAPP) software that the school currently uses.
DegreeWorks will provide students and advisors with tools that allow them to perform various tasks, from crafting multiyear student plans to calculating tentative GPAs. The software integrates with the online course catalogue, enabling it to provide students with dynamic course advice based on their previous, current and planned course credit. Rather than simply displaying which GERs they have and have not completed, DegreeWorks interacts with students, showing them which specific requirements are outstanding and indicating the classes that can potentially fulfill them.
The implementation process has been a joint effort between the IT department and the Office of the University Registrar. Cory Springer, who has been working closely with the program in the registrar’s office, is providing small group training for advisors during the summer and new student orientation. According to Springer, the new software, “has been very well received by advisors,” noting that, “I’ve already been able to make changes based on their feedback.”
The program will be used by incoming undergraduate freshmen and transfer students, as well as all law students and students from other selected graduate programs. The current degree evaluation program will be phased out progressively as the current undergraduate classes graduate. “We would like to move everyone over to the new program in one swoop,” says Springer, “but each class’s requirements are so different that it is much easier this way.” The old program will leave campus once and for all with the graduating class of 2017.
While advisors will be trained by Springer personally, incoming freshmen will be informed of the program through a Tribe Studies summer course. During this mandatory course, students will create a one year plan in preparation for their first advisor meeting. Bonnie Fleming, the project’s manager, explains, “Students will be introduced to the online catalogue, as well as DegreeWorks, through a combination of instructional guides and tutorial videos.”
DegreeWorks possesses not only readily observable advantages for students, but also more discrete benefits to the registrar’s office. The registrar can aggregate student demand for courses using the student plan feature. This allows them to better predict the number of seats and professors necessary for various courses. “One of the questions the University struggles with,” adds Fleming, “is: Are we offering enough sections for popular classes?” DegreeWorks has the potential to answer this question.
Although only a fraction of the school will be using it initially, the program has the potential to change the way students think about their coursework. Gone are the days of complex and unintuitive degree evaluation. As Cory Springer points out, the bottom line for this project is ease. “DegreeWorks is easy to navigate and it delivers the information in a more understandable way,” she states, “If it did nothing else but those two things, it would have been a win for us.” Fortunately, it will do much more than that.