Degree audits: the most difficult thing you have to read in college

A degree audit is one of the first pieces of paper that a student receives after deciding on a major/minor. It is perhaps the most useful tool for tracking academic progress toward graduation. However, its function is severely limited by a confusing layout and ambiguous terminology that make it challenging to navigate through graduation requirements without the help of an adviser. The university should consider providing a more concise how-to guide or online tutorial for students to be able to interpret their degree audit.

Baylor uses a software called the Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS) by College Source, Inc. According to the Office of the Registrar’s website, one of the many benefits of having this software in place is that it allows for major changes to be made. With a “what if” option students can see how their degree requirements would change if they were to change or add a major/minor.

While the system’s ability to reflect such changes is surely a plus, the uniform layout of information is hard to sift through. Many factors contribute to this confusion such as multiple abbreviations, not enough distinction between groups and subgroups of information and words like “OK”, “NO,” “NA” and “Work not applicable” to describe the completion of a requirement. While the Office of the Registrar and University Advisement do provide a brief guide on how to read the audit on their websites, this is hardly sufficient to analyze the scope of data provided for the average student. Because of this, many undergraduates find themselves needing the assistance of an adviser to help them read it.

Aside from posing a burden on students, the necessity of going to an adviser to look through a degree audit can put a strain on the advisers themselves. This is especially true at the beginning and end of each semester. During this time, they are not able to dedicate to each student because the sheer number of appointments made.

Another problem arises due to the fact that the amount of training that each adviser receives is subject to variation because each school within Baylor is in charge of training their faculty. This combined with the periodic updates made by the university and automatically on the software itself leave much room for inconsistency in degree audit advising.

According to Degree Audit Coordinator Kathy Mulkey, who works in the Office of the Registrar, Baylor is looking at purchasing a more interactive degree planning program from College Source, Inc. While it is still unknown when exactly this software will be put in place, Mulkey said that it will take a while before it will be ready for mass use due to staff training. In the meantime, a solution to the problem of reading through audits using the software in place now needs to be offered.

Degree audits have the potential to be an effective way of tracking progress. They are relatively easy to acquire through BearWeb. Why not set up a link by the degree audit option that redirects you to an updated manual ( there is one that exists online from 2008) or a supplementary video tutorial? This would allow BearWeb to become a one-stop destination for degree audit information rather than having it scattered across multiple Web pages to sift through online.

An initiative like this could serve as the first step toward promoting a foundational degree audit literacy among current and future student populations. This would in no way make the role of an adviser obsolete. Rather, it would aid in making advising sessions more effective based on a common understanding what it take to leave Baylor with a diploma in hand.