Curriculum Committee Approvals Need to Link to Your Degree Audit System

My Learning Plan written in a notebook. In the best of all worlds, your faculty and their Curriculum Committees will understand that when they approve a course that the course needs to be applied correctly into a student’s Plan of Study/Plan of Work and that your degree audit system is configured to “count” that approved course for a student’s progress toward degree completion requirements (degree audit systems). Curriculum committee approvals need to link to degree audit. Does the new course satisfy a course required for the major, a minor, general education requirements or electives?  For which degree programs?  You specify this relationship when you publish your annual Catalog that details program requirements and that articulation forms the basis for your institution’s “contract” with the student for the courses required to complete the degree/program.

Integration of Curriculum Committee and Degree Audit

Consultants meet to evaluate curriculum.

Degree audit system alignment needs to integrate directly with curriculum committee course approvals. A comprehensive and optimized student information system will have perfect alignment from curriculum committee course and program approvals into the “end product” for measuring a student’s progress toward their degree/program objectives (degree audit systems).  Aligning curriculum committee course approvals with degree audit templates for a given Catalog year can be challenging, dynamic and complex. It can be assumed that most colleges experience less than optimized success with perfect alignment of curricular approvals versus degree audit templates for all programs for a given catalog year.

There are a myriad of variables and many stages in the process of reconciling curriculum committee course approvals and changes with degree audit templates, considering the impact on advising, registration, degree clearance and student retention and the satisfaction in knowing that students are taking courses that will count in their progress toward program completion.

Workflow Technology Can Help Align Curriculum Management to Degree Audit

If you can relate to the challenges of associating sound and extensive data from curriculum committee course approvals and translate those actions into accurately updated and comprehensive degree audit templates you have a solid understanding of necessary interrelationship of course approvals to the process mapping of student progress toward program objectives (degree audit systems). If you can’t associate the two, there is probably no need for you to continue reading this article . . . . OR there is EVERY reason for you to continue to read this article!  You may want to investigate workflow technologies to include workflow distribution of curriculum committee approvals to those who manage your degree audit system.

Does Your Faculty Know That the DOE is Looking?

Why is this question more important now than ever? The Department of Education (DOE) is being aggressive and taking much more interest than they did just a few years ago in the allocations and use of their Title IV monies being disbursed by financial aid programs and the accountability of those monies.    Through the annual A133 external audit conducted by an external CPA auditing firm, the Feds are reviewing transcripts and student course schedules and are testing and measuring compliance for students who take courses that are not prescribed by articulated and approved degree programs. If a student is registered for an approved course, but the course is not in a student’s plan of study (degree audit) it is becoming more commonplace for the auditors to discover and report exceptions that result in “findings” which get reported back to the DOE. And, in many cases, those “findings” result in institutional financial paybacks (“penalties”) for non-compliance.

Curriculum Committee Approvals Link to Degree Audit

Man holding magnifying glass over paper to show an audit to see if Alignment of Courses to Degree.
If your institution conducts degree clearance by identifying and flagging substitutions and waivers when a student applies for the degree, your institution can be found to be out of compliance with the annual A133 external audit.   “cleaning” up a student’s academic record prior to graduation by identifying and flagging substitutions and waived courses.  The auditors do not wait until the time an institution has processed substitutions and waivers based on degree clearance.  They measure at the current time with the current random samples of what they are reviewing during their audit. Non-compliance can equal “findings”. “Findings” can equal financial payback of Title IV monies.

Role of Provost, CFO, Registrar and Director of Financial Aid

  1. Most faculties who initiate a new course proposal through the curriculum approval process are unaware of the potential consequences of incorrectly establishing the course in degree audit systems.
  2. Many departmental curriculum committees that approve and refer a new course to the university-wide curriculum committee for approval are, also, unaware of the potential consequences for incorrectly establishing the course in degree audit systems.
  1. Even the university-wide curriculum committee that approves the course for the Provost’s review and approval may be unaware of the potential consequences for incorrectly establishing the course in degree audit systems.
  1. Because of conditions existing in #1, #2 and #3 an institution should have the chief academic officer and the chief financial officer meet with curriculum committees to establish minimum benchmarks; data standards and communication processes required for the appropriate establishment of new courses in degree audit systems. The Registrar and Director of Financial Aid should assist with these meetings as expert resources.
  1. Institutions should consider seriously either developing in-house or vendor solutions for curriculum management systems that employ workflow forms that are comprehensive for all data required for the establishment of a new course. Included on the workflow form should be how the course will “count” in degree audit systems, i.e. satisfies major requirement; can count for minor requirements; satisfies general education requirements; can be used as an elective in any program or some programs (and which ones?). Such information needs to be a part of the workflow form.
  1. The workflow routing for approvals needs to be routed eventually to the individual responsible for degree audit system maintenance and updating.

The Registrar Needs to be “At The Table”

The Registrar (or a competent designee) should be a member of the university-wide curriculum committee where final approval is given for any new course. This position can be either as an ad hoc committee member, designee of the chief academic officer or as a seated member of the committee. For those institutions that do not include registrar representation on curriculum approval committees the likelihood of significant “disconnects” between curriculum course approvals and proper new course integration into degree audit systems increases exponentially.

It is less than satisfactory to pass “Minutes” of curriculum committee actions to the Registrar hoping that proper determinations are made for handling of courses correctly in a degree audit system.  For those institutions that do not include registrar representation on curriculum approval committees, the likelihood of significant “disconnects” between curriculum course approvals and proper new course integration into degree audits systems increases exponentially.  Great understanding on the part of the Registrar of the curriculum additions or changes comes from “being at the table” and can add much to the process itself.

About the Author:

Author:  Herb Riley.  Meet and contact Herb here.

About the Author:

Since 2005, Herb has assisted the higher education community with consulting services in all aspects of student information systems and registrar practices. For 17 years, Herb served as the University Registrar at Binghamton University and had a career of over 32 years as an acclaimed practitioner in the areas of enrollment management, admissions and registrar services. In 2014, Herb and a team of like-minded and highly regarded professionals formed focusEDU to bring their skills-sets for providing assessment/evaluation consulting; national search services and interim placement appointments to the leadership of the higher education community.

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