Have you declared yet?

A new policy requiring students to declare a major after attaining a certain number of credits could put holds on thousands of students’ registrations next year.

The policy, which takes effect at the start of the fall semester, will require students who enroll as freshmen to declare a major by the time they attain 45 credit hours, while transfer students will have to declare before achieving 75 credit hours. Starting with the spring 2005 semester, students failing to declare a major before reaching the threshold will have a hold placed on registration until they comply.

Doug Hartnagel, associate vice president of student affairs at USF, said the new policy is an effort to make students more aware of the university’s advising resources.

“This is not a punitive policy. It is a way of encouraging students to really seek out all the resources available here at the university and to get students focused on what they want to do while here,” Hartnagel said. “It’s going to direct students to the Center for Academic Advising to get the kind of counseling they need to make the decisions earlier.

“Under the old system, they were just kind of floating out there in limbo with no support. So this system will funnel them into the support systems. The university has some tremendous resources, but students need to be directed towards those resources.”

According to academic advising director Sylvia Salter, the center for advising sees an average of more than 8,000 students each semester, the majority of which have earned at least 60 credit hours. Nearly all the students seen by the center are undeclared.

“I think students reach a comfort level in being undecided about a major, and what I try to tell them is that in many cases, employers will look to see how long it took a student to graduate or how long beyond four years it took them to get a four-year degree,” Salter said. “And it’s not a good thing if you got a four-year degree in six, seven, eight years. So I think it is a decision-making problem.”

Hartnagel said the policy in no way sets a student’s major in stone, as there will be no punishment for students who change their minds.

“I would suspect that we do have a portion of undeclared majors who, in their heads, know exactly what they want to do but haven’t taken the necessary action to formalize it.

“Just because a student does declare a major, it doesn’t mean that they are held to that forever. They can still change majors. … But the sooner they can get into a major, the sooner they can get the kind of advising and support services to help them decide if that is really, truly what they should be doing.”

The new policy is the latest vehicle employed by USF to push students to decide on a major sooner, Hartnagel said. One of the biggest changes at the university, he added, has been the introduction of a two-credit course in career development put on through USF’s Career Center. Early student evaluations for the course have been positive, Hartnagel said, and more sections of the class will be offered in the summer and fall.

Hartnagel said the Career Center and Academic Advising will work together more closely to help students make the best decisions for the career path the student has chosen.

The policy is not tied to Florida’s recent changes aimed at getting students to graduate in four years, Hartnagel said.

“This is an institutional decision. There was a wide spectrum of discussion that included academic advisers throughout the campus, all the colleges, the Faculty Senate and the undergraduate council,” he said. “It went through the normal process of an academic policy. Most institutions throughout the country have this type of policy in place.

“The intent is that students should progress at a more reasonable pace than they are right now. There is a tendency for students to go well beyond the traditional four years to graduate, and in many cases there are very legitimate reasons for students to do that. But I think once you get beyond six years, you get into what I think the Legislature is trying to avoid, and that is career students. It’s not like the Legislature, or USF for that matter, is trying to build an assembly line.”

According to Hartnagel, USF enrolls about 3,000 non-degree seeking students. These students will be exempt from the new policy.

The policy will also likely have minimal financial impact on the university, Hartnagel explained, because it will lead to more students staying enrolled.

“I don’t think that has any impact on tuition at all, nor will it cost the university any lost income. If anything, it will have a positive impact by retaining students. It’s more economical from the university’s standpoint to retain a student than it is to go out and recruit a new student.”