Academic journal article College and University

Challenges with Transforming the Degree Certification Process

Academic journal article College and University

Challenges with Transforming the Degree Certification Process

Article excerpt

Undertaking significant change of one of the core functions of a university-certifying that all graduation requirements have been met-results at best in tremors of discomfort and, at worst, in buttressed walls of resistance. At an institution as large as Michigan State University, with 16 colleges and approximately 46,000 students, even minor changes in policy or practice are magnified. Development of an online degree certification process constitutes anything but a minor change. So why change? What are the issues with the current degree certification process? What are the benefits of an online system, and who will reap those benefits?

Simply stated, the existing degree certification process at Michigan State University (msu) is labor intensive for all involved. It is paper-based, costly, and time consuming. But by leveraging technology, the process can be streamlined without sacrificing accuracy or data integrity. (And some of the colleges finally might be able to get rid of the typewriters they keep just for this process!)


MSU's current degree certification process begins with students, who apply for graduation via the Web. During the fourth week of the semester (or the second week of summer session), the registrar's office degree staff generates and distributes to the colleges lists of applicants for graduation. The report is known as the "Deficiency List" because the colleges and departments are required to detail the coursework that each student still must complete in order to graduate.

Two versions of the Deficiency List are created: one sorted alphabetically by student level (undergraduate and graduate) and another sorted alphabetically by major code. The degree staff stores in multiple three-ring binders the copy that is sorted alphabetically by student level. The lists sorted by major are distributed to the colleges, which distribute them to the departments to fill out. Printed on custom, sticker-stock paper, the Deficiency Lists distributed to the colleges detail student information on the left side of each page; the right side is a removable sticker (similar to a mailing label). The label lists the student id (pid), degree type (ba, bs, etc.), and four questions relating to university requirement completion. Department staff circle "Yes" or "No" in answer to the four questions and then specify the courses or requirements the student must complete in order to graduate. The college reviews and approves the lists and returns the completed forms to the registrar's office.

The left side of the Deficiency List is identical to the left side of the list sent to the college and is retained by degree staff; the right side is blank. When the colleges return their lists, the degree staff removes the stickers from the "sorted by major" reports and affixes them to the "sorted by level" reports to create one master alphabetical listing of applicants by level. A separate binder is kept for late applications, and yet another binder is maintained for any correspondence relating either to the application status or to the requirement completion status of a prospective graduate.

The custom, sticker-stock paper costs between $0.47 and $1.09 a sheet, depending on the quantity purchased. MSU graduates between 10,000 and 11,000 students each year (roughly 6,000 each spring, 2,000 each fall, and 2,000 each summer), and each page of the Deficiency List displays information for only six students. In other words, MSU uses a lot of custom sticker-stock paper each year. Additional costs are associated with acquiring and storing the paper stock, as well as with printing and distributing the Deficiency List. In the present era of budget tightening, the Deficiency List is a potential place for significant cost reduction.


Each semester, on the day after final grades are due, an Internal Advising Report (IAR) is printed for every student who is still in an "applied" status for the term. …

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