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WSSU tackles rising cost of college by improving degree efficiency

Winston-Salem State University is one of four universities in the country participating in a new initiative that could drive down the cost of college by improving degree efficiency. The Purposeful Pathways: Faculty Planning for Curricular Coherence initiative is being spearheaded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) thanks to a grant from The Teagle Foundation.

Universities with high degree efficiency see their students attempting fewer total credits before graduation. WSSU has already been a leader in North Carolina in addressing degree efficiency. By ensuring that curriculum has a clear path and by providing robust advising, the university has reduced the average number of credit hours a student attempts from 137 to 128 since 2013. The University of North Carolina System average is 139.2 credit hours. Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credit hours of study.

“The rising cost of college is something that must be tackled on multiple fronts,” said Chancellor Robinson. “The difference between 128 credit hours and the UNC System average of 139.2 translates to about another semester’s worth of coursework. By helping our students graduate more efficiently, we are able to help them save thousands of dollars of tuition, room, and board. They also enter the workforce sooner, which gives them a head start in paying off any debt they did incur.”

To help students avoid taking more credits than necessary to complete their degrees, WSSU is taking a two-pronged approach. Faculty and administrators are taking a close look at how general education courses integrate with the majors and how they can meet the prerequisites required for advanced study. Meanwhile, advisors are working closely with students to help them identify the best courses to take to meet their graduation requirements.

“We cannot do things the way they have always been done,” said Chancellor Robinson. “Looking at the issue of college affordability from a new angle is critical. We are looking at our curriculum from all angles and making decisions on the alignment of courses by placing the student at the center of the process. We are continually asking ourselves challenging questions about how we can better serve our students.”

Through the Purposeful Pathways initiative, WSSU will work with the AAC&U and three other universities (Community College of Philadelphia, University of Houston-Downtown and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) on a six-month planning project that will lay the foundation for additional faculty-led curricular changes leading to improved student learning and success in earning degrees.

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