New degree planner software takes the guesswork out of charting a path to timely UND graduation
University of North Dakota Student Body President Cole Bachmeier was a stellar high school grad.
He had already tackled several advanced placement courses during his time at West Fargo High School, and rolled into his UND freshman orientation with 30-40 college credits already in his back pocket.
But his confidence took a hit when he sat down to register for his first semester courses.
“It was really intimidating, to be honest,” Bachmeier recalls. “Having not registered before, I was feeling kind of lost. My advisor hadn’t seen so many credits before, and it sort of became a mess. I ended up signing up for a class I didn’t need, and I didn’t realize it until looking back – because I’m very paranoid about these things,” he added with a laugh.
Bachmeier wasn’t alone. The early stages of mapping a degree plan are among the most challenging obstacles students face, and can cause some to give up early on their aspirations. He brought this shared concern to the attention of Registrar Scott Correll and Provost Tom DiLorenzo.
This fall, when the UND Strategic Plan Goal Two team – in charge of increasing graduation and retention rates – started searching for an enhanced degree planner platform to increase student satisfaction and success, they asked Bachmeier to join the conversation.
His student insight led them to a recently signed contract – in alliance with North Dakota State University (NDSU) – with Civitas’ Degree Map, an online system through which students and their advisors can input particular degree goals, restrictions and requirements to create a flexible roadmap to a timely graduation.
“The ultimate goal is to make it easy for students, especially incoming students, to really take hold and know what’s going on in their degree plan,” Bachmeier said. “When you’re jumping in feet-first, you can at least know you have a life raft.”
The new degree planner will be supported through a partnership with NDSU, which will jointly fund and use the system as a pilot program. If the degree planner is successful, Correll imagines its use could spread throughout the North Dakota University System.
NDSU Registrar Rhonda Kitch noted that NDSU and UND are already connected through Campus Connection and similar business processes, so the dual implementation of Degree Map was a natural progression.
“Both NDSU and UND are committed to student academic success and reducing barriers in the academic progress journey,” Kitch said. “Through our shared goals and collaborative relationship we were successful in leveraging a competitive contract for Degree Map.”
“Rhonda and I were both looking at ways in which we can increase student success and increase our rankings by graduating students in a timely manner,” Correll continued. “That’s not only good for the University, it’s also good for the student. They’re not spending extra money and they can actually get into a career and pay back those student loans instead of taking out more.”
How it works
Correll says UND has provided static four-year program degree plans for a while, but they can be difficult to modify for unique cases like Bachmeier’s.
“Students come in with transfer credits, or they can have advanced placement credits or dual enrollment credits from high school,” Correll said. “Then you have to start crossing things off of this stagnant piece of paper, whereas a degree planner is going to be interfaced with our student information system, so it will then re-tailor a four-year or less map for the student.”
That’s the key to the ease of the new degree planner – automation. Degree Map will work with College Scheduler – an online registration software UND has used for more than a year – to create semester-to-semester course plans. College Scheduler allows students to enter the classes they need in a given semester, and the tool will create a number of schedule possibilities that can be filtered according to work schedules, student organization/team commitments, or sleep preferences (for those late risers).
Degree Map will help extend that planning capability to the full span of the degree. If a course can’t be completed in the initially planned semester, or program requirements change, the degree plan will offer solutions to keep the student on track.
“What excites me most about this is for our double major or major/minor students who have very different paths,” Bachmeier said. “It’s hard to determine which requirements will work with both majors, and this notifies you if you’re taking two courses when one would cover two requirements.”
The degree planner will also help make the process of future course planning more efficient for the Registrar’s Office.
“When students put in their four-year plan, we can also see how many students are projecting to take, say, Accounting I, three semesters out. It will help us determine how many classes we’ll need, how many instructors, and so on,” Correll explained.
Next step – student success
With the contract signed, Degree Map has entered the implementation phase.
Core Technology Services will wrap up the technical side in the coming weeks, and Correll and his team will take over on the user end. Their goal is to introduce the planner to pilot groups at this summer’s freshman orientation, with a full rollout in November for spring registration.
Even though Bachmeier will soon graduate and head down a new path, he’s proud that he could help find a way to make those important college choices easier for anxious new leaders in action.
“Knowing that students will have this tool to put them at ease that first day of school is so important,” he said. “It’s really rewarding to know that students down the line won’t have the problems that students today run into.”