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YSU System tracks academics

By Bob Roth

Sunday, October 21, 2001

DARS is part of the university's nuts-and-bolts approach to improving student services.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Let's say you're a sophomore at Youngstown State University and want to find out what you need to do to graduate.
Simple, right? Well, maybe not. The process can be a bit laborious.
First, you set up a meeting with your faculty adviser. The adviser wades through your academic file and with pencil in hand checks off courses you have and courses you still need.
You hope all of the information is there.
You hope that two years down the line, the check list will leave you with a diploma.
You hope you won't be caught one or two courses short and cursing your adviser, the university and yourself.
"Whenever anything is done manually like this, there's a greater chance for error," said Marie Cullen, YSU's assessment director.
In its drive to make the campus more responsive to student needs, YSU plans to spend $250,000 to take the finger-crossing out of the degree-building process.
New system: In January, the university will begin implementing the Degree Audit Reporting System, a computer-based program that gives students and academic advisers quick, accurate and reliable access to students' progress toward graduation.
DARS, developed by Miami University in Ohio 17 years ago, is being used by more than 150 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, including all of Ohio's public, four-year universities except YSU.
YSU President David Sweet, who took the university's helm 16 months ago, said getting the system clearly wasn't a priority in the past.
He said implementing the system, which could take two or three years, is the type of nuts-and-bolts move YSU must take to be more student-friendly, keeping current students satisfied and attracting new students to campus.
"It's been long in coming," said Bill Countryman, YSU registrar.
YSU received a $250,000 gift from the Andrews Trust to implement the system, which should take the pencil-and-paper out of the process.
"If you have to do this in a manual fashion and you don't have the computerized data in front of you, it is a burden and a barrier for both the adviser as well as the student," Sweet said.
Cullen said DARS allows students at the stroke of a key to call up and print out an audit of their completed coursework as well as a list of requirements they need to fulfill to finish their degrees.
Shopping around: It also allows students to "degree shop," she said. If a third-year engineering student decides to change his degree to history, the system will spit out a report showing what impact the switch will have.
"It's going to make everyone's job a little easier, and it certainly will provide a great enhancement of service to students," Countryman said.
Slippery Rock University, across the state line in Pennsylvania, has had DARS for nearly a decade, said Elliot Baker, SRU director of academic records.
"It's an exceptionally good tool," he said.
At SRU, students can access the system through the university's Website, checking their records in the comfort of their own homes, Baker said.
Transfer students: In addition to DARS, YSU plans to implement a course applicability system funded by the Ohio Board of Regents to ease transfer of credits from students attending other Ohio universities.
"It will help transfer students be more mobile," Cullen said.
Sweet said he hopes the system will increase students transferring to YSU. Of YSU's 12,250 students, 549 or less than 4.5 percent had transferred from another school, records show.
Cullen said YSU started a degree audit system in the 1980s, but it was never fully utilized and died out. She said employees must be trained and tons of data input, updated and maintained for the system to work.
"This isn't a project where you can tell a few people in their spare time to learn how to program and encode this," she said. "It needs some leadership. It needs a few years of real dedicated work."
But Baker of Slippery Rock said the work is well worth it.
"We feel now that it's up and we've had it a few years that it's made a world of difference," he said. "It's very, very popular."