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Registrar’s office offers online degree audit

Will Puckett | Friday, September 5, 2003

This fall marks another addition to IrishLink’s repertoire, as students returned from summer break to find an online Degree Audit available. The feature, currently available to sophomores, juniors and graduate students, is slated to become available to all students next fall.

“We staggered the rollout in an effort to make sure that first, any bugs that cropped up could be taken care of, and second, seniors would still be sure to use their advisers,” Doug McKenna, degree audit specialist at the Registrar’s Office, said.

The rollout has not been completely without problems, however. According to McKenna, there are two major known bugs.

“There are some known problems with the service, two major ones, the first being that dual degree students can only display one of their degrees at a time, and the second that study abroad classes are given class designations that the computer can’t handle very well,” McKenna said.

McKenna stressed that most problems that have been reported to the Registrar’s Office have not been technical issues, and that students should go to their adviser before contacting the Registrar’s Office with what they believe is a problem. Advisers are able to edit the Degree Audit output, and have more resources available to them, so they are able to resolve most questions.

Ava Preacher, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the product students are using now was the result of several years of work.

“It really started several years ago, in February 1997, and we spent quite awhile trying to cover all the colleges in the University with one interface that would show what students needed to do in order to get their degree,” Preacher said.

The computer-based and then online Degree Audit were at first used only by advisers in all the colleges, who relied on it as an advising tool. That role is intended to remain unchanged today, according to Preacher.

“We really want this to be a tool for advising, not a replacement for the adviser themselves,” Preacher said. “It’s been a long process, but we feel like it’s very useful.”

In fact, advisers no longer use paper to outline scheduling requirements for students, except in the case of transfers. The confidence in the interface and underlying technology has grown, although accuracy is still a concern.

“That’s our biggest concern, accuracy,” Preacher said. “It’s never going to be completely accurate, but it is improving.”

One concern with this is the frequency with which the “snapshot” of records that is taken to build the Degree Audit is updated. Preacher estimated that any changes should show up within a few weeks, while McKenna specified that there are going to be approximately four or five updates each semester, coinciding with “big dates” on the Registrar’s calendar, such as the last day to add or drop classes. According to McKenna, the last update to the “snapshot” was August 11-13, and the next one is scheduled for early next week.

Both Preacher and McKenna said that the feedback they had received from students was largely positive. An e-mail was sent to students eligible to use the online Degree Audit, in hopes of raising student awareness of the new option open to them. However, some students were still not aware of the new program.

“I don’t know what it is, really,” sophomore Owen McGonigle said.

Several other students echoed his comments, or said that they had not heard of the website.

“What’s that? I haven’t heard of it,” sophomore Jessica Woessner said.

Some students have used the webpage, or are at least aware of its existence, but have not fully utilized it.

“I checked it out the other day, I didn’t really think much about it,” said junior Kirk Gomsak.

Also, at least one transfer student expressed questions about how up-to-date and useful the program was.

“I looked at it, but it was already so far out of date, especially since I was a transfer student, so I didn’t really find it much help,” junior Colin Sharkey said.

While there does appear to be some knowledge out there about online Degree Audit, it is still a young technology option for students. The primary source for help in scheduling should, as reiterated by Preacher and McKenna, remain advisers.

In the future, however, McKenna hopes that as more students use it, it will go as smoothly as the recent rollout did.

“The first rollout went very smoothly, and we hope that as more students are able to use it, that that goes smoothly as well,” McKenna said.