SGA plans four-year road map

The Youngstown State University Student Government Association plans to propose an incentive-based program, which would guarantee that students will graduate in four years, to the YSU Board of Trustees later this semester.

If YSU doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain, the university would foot the bill.

SGA President Cory Okular said the idea is still in the developmental and research-gathering stages.

“Ideally, when you come in as a freshman, you would be — either digitally or in print — have a contract that says, ‘Here is your curriculum sheet, and here are the classes you would need to take for the next four years in order to graduate on time,’” he said.

Okular said the plan would be an option and solely the student’s decision. There would be certain stipulations, such as a requirement to maintain satisfactory academic status and restrictions on failing or withdrawing from any courses.

Upon implementation, the university would be required to pay for any additional time incurred or even substitute an equivalent class to fulfill that requirement.

That is, if the student met all the requirements.

“It would virtually be a zero risk for the university,” Okular said. “The university would never pay a dime if it works correctly. All they would have to do is make sure they’re offering the correct classes, and if something comes up, be able to switch classes that are equivalent.”

Okular said he just wants this option to be available to students. SGA is modeling its plan on other universities’ similar programs.

Sharon Stephan, vice president of university affairs at the University of Nebraska, said the school’s board of regents approved the four-year graduation guarantee in 2002.

Of the students who entered the university as first-year students in 2002, 25.4 percent graduated in four years — 32.3 percent for those who entered in 2007.

UN’s four-year plan comes with a list of practices a student must follow, including choosing a major without changing it, working with academic advisers and working less than 20 hours a week. Students who follow this plan must also register early for 15 to 18 credit hours a semester and receive acceptable grades.

Stephan said UN also recently implemented a 120-credit-hour policy to reduce the required number of hours a student would need to complete to graduate.

Susan Fritz, interim provost and executive vice president at UN, said the four-year guarantee is a good way to increase graduation rates.

“This really weighs out the practices in the past to successfully graduating,” Fritz said. “There’s no ‘gotcha’ to this. It’s nothing but a plus for students.”

YSU’s graduation rate for students entering as first-year students in 2005 (the last year for which data is available) is 11.8 percent.

Okular said a four-year guarantee could boost that number.

“Students would have a clear-cut road map,” Okular said. “A lot can be done online, and it would show up when an adviser pulls up a student’s file whether or not they’re part of the program.”

Okular said he thinks most advisers already monitor and track students’ schedules.

“It saves the university money and ups the four-year graduation rate too, which is one of the big metrics that state funding is by now,” he said.

If students initially test into remedial courses, Okular said the program could still work.

Okular said the students in remedial coursework might not be initially eligible until they finish that coursework.

“It’s really targeted at the largest middle group of students. The very smart ones will already graduate in four years virtually no matter what happens,” he said. “The people that may take the remedial courses might go at the pace that is comfortable for them and may not be comfortable with a pace that is on a four-year track.”

But there are still a few kinks to be worked out.

William Buckler, coordinator of academic advisement, said it might be a difficult task because it is unknown when all upper-division courses will be offered.

“It would be a challenge for most departments to plan out four years ahead,” Buckler said.

Okular said that trying to persuade every department and major to have a four-year plan would be the hardest part.

He said the process may take “a year or year and a half, unless the university wants to step in and help push this along.”

Buckler said he is developing a website as a centralized location where all students can find every major’s current curriculum sheet. He said he noticed that the curriculum sheets and bulletins are not always correct and up-to-date.

The senate and the university board of trustees must approve the curriculum sheets before Buckler can post anything online. He also plans to revamp the academic advisement website by this summer.