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New USF degree audit program launches today

Students searching for their degree audits now have to navigate a new program when checking their academic progess.

DegreeWorks system for degree auditing replaces the Florida Academic Counseling and Tracking for Students’ (FACT) Student Academic Support System (SASS) Report today, ending the program’s 20-year relationship with USF.

“It’s going to be a great advancement for us,” Vice Provost of Student Success Paul Dosal said. “This is even more evidence of the University’s commitment (to student success). We continue to make major investments for student success. This is a significant step forward … What we’re looking for is to accelerate students’ time toward a degree.”

Dosal, a member of the DegreeWorks Steering Committee, said he believes the new system provides the right tools for administrators and advisers to track student success, and allows students more control over their own academic progress.

DegreeWorks offers features such as a “What If” option that allows students to view what requirements they would need to meet if they changed their majors, a GPA calculator to determine the grades necessary to achieve a desired GPA and visual tools to see the exact courses needed to graduate.

The system will also soon feature a shopping cart option, allowing students to directly register for classes from a list of courses they are required to take.

Gail Evans, associate director of Enterprise Business Systems and a member of the DegreeWorks Steering Committee, said the system was chosen because it fulfilled the needs of many USF advisers and administrators.

“We took those requirements and sent them to the vendors and told them, ‘This is what we want. We don’t want you to come in and do the normal dog and pony show,'” she said. “You want something that is tracking the students’ requirements. You want to have something to look at to know that students are on track.”

Michael Moore, associate vice president of Decision Support and Academic Budgets, said the USF system has spent $263,590 in hardware, software and consultancy costs since preparations for implementing the system began in 2008.

During the 2010-11 fiscal year, USF budgeted $32,323 for the implementation of the system, Moore said, and estimated maintenance costs for the 2011-12 fiscal year at $13,523. It cost $204,000 in annual maintenance to run the SASS system.

USF is the first university in Florida to break away from FACT’s SASS system, Evans said, though the program was implemented at USF’s regional St. Petersburg campus in fall 2010 and at the Polytechnic campus in Lakeland in spring 2010.

Evans said she believes the future of degree auditing in Florida rests on the new system’s success USF.

“I think a lot of universities are interested in DegreeWorks,” she said, “and they’re kind of waiting to see how we do.”

Jennifer Beyer, assistant director of Enrollment Management at USF Polytechnic, described herself as “DegreeWorkstastic” when expressing her satisfaction with the program to Evans last year.

“The feedback that we’ve been receiving from students is that they seem to like it,” she said. “It’s easy to understand and so they’re able to better guide themselves through their specific degree requirements.”

However, the transition hasn’t been without its “hiccups,” Beyer said, though problems haven’t been “major” and students have been “more proactive in helping them identify those discrepancies.”

Hiccups may be seen on the Tampa campus as well, as the system becomes available to all undergraduate students about two weeks before summer and fall registration opens.

In a mass e-mail sent Tuesday to students with AP, IB or other advanced curriculum credits, students were warned that “total credit hours currently displayed on your DegreeWorks audit are not correct” due to the duplication of credit hours.

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences were also sent a mass e-mail Tuesday, suggesting they print their audits as “there are still some aspects of the audit that need adjustment,” particularly in regard to transfer credits.

Despite the warnings, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Katharine Cole said most students shouldn’t encounter problems while transitioning to the new system.

“While this is a new system and, therefore, it may need some modifications, for the overwhelming majority of our students, there will be few problems, and the great advantage for all our students clearly outweighs the minor alterations that may be necessary,” Cole said. “We will be partnering with our students and enlisting their help to discover any challenges within the system so that we can address them in a timely manner.”

Evans said students who experience problems with their audits should contact their advisers or the Information Technology Help Desk.

“DegreeWorks is an important step toward student success for the University of South Florida System,” she said. “As we prepare to meet any challenges that lie before us, we will continue to work diligently to provide quality service to our students.”