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Deans promote 4 year track

Joe Piarulli | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

With a price tag of nearly $40,000 for one year of education at Notre Dame, college deans are keenly aware of the four-year time table for graduation – taking special care to ensure that every student earns a diploma as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In the Mendoza College of Business, assistant dean Samuel Gaglio said no student is guaranteed to snag the professor or class time they want. However, Gaglio said, the four year track to graduation is not going to be lengthened because of it.

“I can’t tell you every student gets exactly the courses they want. … [But] Notre Dame is a four-year institution, and it seems that everyone wants to keep it that way,” Gaglio said. “Our commitment to the students is four years.”

The overwhelming majority of Notre Dame students graduate on time – 93 percent, according to the office of undergraduate admissions Web site – and both administrators and students want to keep it that way.

“It’s very important to me to graduate in four years because that’s what I’ve planned for,” freshman James Zenker said. “College is meant to be four years and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Zenker plans to go into the Mendoza College of Business next semester, where classes have filled up quickly.

“There’s only three more business law classes left and half the freshman class hasn’t registered. In business ethics there’s only around 20 spots left,” he said.

According to Gaglio, there’s no reason to panic.

“If you don’t get business law in the sophomore year the way it’s scheduled, that’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Our goal is to get everyone to graduate in their four-year window.”

According to Gaglio, scheduling has never impeded a student from graduating on time.

“We’ve never had a student not graduate in the year they want unless they have deliberately dropped a course,” he said. “The only reason a student wouldn’t graduate in four years is that they don’t want to take the load it would require to do it.”

Mitchell Wayne, associate dean of the College of Science, said that the College is always trying to accommodate students’ needs.

“This is my fourth year as associate dean and I can’t remember a single case of someone not being able to graduate in four years because they couldn’t get the classes they need,” he said.

“The only issues that come up occasionally are when courses are for a given major and other majors need them as electives. Often we have to make sure the majors that really need it that semester get it first, and then the students that need it for electives come in after that.”

In the School of Architecture, where students generally graduate in five years, scheduling is even less of a concern.

“The courses that are needed to graduate are guaranteed … so that the biggest [problem] that [students] have is an issue of getting the section that fits their schedule,” assistant dean Richard Bullene said. “Typically it’s a pretty mundane operation.”

Bullene said architecture classes hover between 45 and 55 students, so adjustments are rather easy to make, and students have some advantages when it comes to scheduling.

“They have the luxury when they register of worrying about their University requirements … the things inside the school are taken care of for them,” he said.

Bullene cited academic difficulties as the only reason a student would not graduate on time, calling such a situation “very rare.”

“I’m not worried at all about graduating in four years, but it’s annoying to deal with trying to make a perfect schedule,” Zenker said. “I just hope something like going to Australia won’t screw things up.”

Going abroad is never a problem in the College of Business, Gaglio said.

“Before a student can go abroad we make them fill out what we call a program of study,” he said. “That program of study identifies the courses they’re taking in the semester before they go, the courses they’re going to take in their abroad semester, and then … we make them plan out all the way to graduation and layout every course so that there is a systematic plan that makes sure they can graduate.”

Representatives from the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Engineering were not available for comment, but both Colleges offer advising for students with regard to scheduling and requirements.

Gaglio’s office at the College of Business has five advisors, and students are able to choose with whom they want to meet.

“You can call for an appointment because we value students’ time as much as we value our own time, or you can walk in here,” he said.

Gaglio’s advice to students struggling with scheduling is simple – “Talk to us.”

“If you came in here in September or February … it is the perfect time to come in,” he said.

While it’s possible not to graduate in four years due to dropping a class or not passing due to the many prerequisites, there are almost always options, Gaglio said.

“We have a domino effect. However, during summer school at Notre Dame we always offer the sophomore year courses so that students can pick up the course they had difficulty with,” he said.

Each year around 500 students – plus or minus 50 – are expected to enroll in the College of Business. According to Gaglio, they try to offer enough courses to take care of incoming sophomores, and even try to offer some classes to the rest of the University, though “not as many as they would like.”

While most students aim to graduate after their fourth year, exceptions do exist.

“The norm at Notre Dame is that everyone wants to graduate in four years, but there are a few that want to stick around … normally to complete a second major,” Gaglio said. “The next most common reason is that they graduate with two degrees.”

According to Gaglio, no student has ever – in his 16 years at the College – asked him to have their schedule spaced out for five years just to ease the load. However, it is not unheard of at other schools.

“In California, it’s actually quite common that you can only pick up three courses each semester at the major institutions,” he said. “If you look at the statistics, there are schools that average between five and five and a half years for the average undergraduate to reach graduation.”

With nearly 90 percent of students graduating in four years, Notre Dame does not appear to be headed in that direction.

“We can validate that every single senior that has told us they want to graduate will graduate on time,” Gaglio said.

Despite the certainty of having the required classes, individual scheduling tends to be much less comforting.

One of the best ways to ease frustration, Gaglio said, is to get requirements out of the way, because juniors and seniors have first pick of electives.