Students who switch majors could influence university funding

By Gus Bode

The amount of time a student spends at the university may affect the amount of funding the university receives from the state in the future.

Because of legislation signed into law in August, state funding will be based on university performance after July 1 and Illinois Board of Higher Education Steering Committee members have started to consider ways to judge a university’s performance. One measure the committee has considered is the number of credit hours a student has acquired before graduation, which academic advisers say is often impacted by students changing majors.

Jim Allen, associate provost for academic programs, is a member of the SIUC Advisory Committee that provided input to the steering committee about measuring university performance.

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Based on records both from SIU and other schools, he said the average undergraduate student will change their major five times before they receive a degree.

The university can help reduce the number of credit hours a student completes before graduating by looking at academic advisement and how it influences a students’ choice in major, Allen said. If a student changes majors five times, their undergraduate career can be prolonged, he said.

“You change to another college and guess what, the selection of core courses has changed,” he said.

Because of this, some students graduate with more credit hours than needed. While most degrees at SIU require 120 credit hours for graduation, Allen said based on records from the university, the average undergraduate student graduates with 137 hours.

The steering committee members have discussed the possibility of awarding schools for graduating students with fewer than 144 credit hours.

Allen said the frequency of major changes can be reduced with a focus on advisement. By focusing on what students are more interested in earlier on in their academic career, he said, they may be less likely to change their minds.

“It saves a lot of students some grief because they’ve had better academic advisement earlier on,” he said. “We know the better the advisement, the more it will help reduce the number of hours.”

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Rebecca Jo Reed, an academic adviser for the College of Science, said students cite many reasons for changing majors.

“In general, they either have taken the first few courses within a major and found they didn’t want it to be their major, or it can be that their parents picked their major, or it could have to do with the workload,” she said.

In the College of Science, specifically, courses often include labs or a minor that may require extra classes, Reed said. At the university as a whole, she said changing majors is one factor that can affect how many credits a student completes.

Reed said career counseling for students can be beneficial, as it includes advisement about job availability and possible salary in a chosen field.

Michelle Weeks, a sophomore studying psychology, said she changed her major in hopes of finding a job easier. Weeks said she originally majored in psychology, but switched to speech communication during her freshman year and then back to psychology.

“My mom told me I would probably find a job more easily in the future if I majored in psychology,” she said.

Weeks said she plans to graduate on time because she changed majors within her freshmen year.

Raul Contreras, a senior from Cicero studying criminal justice, said he first changed his major from aviation to aviation technologies after he passed out on a plane his freshman year. He then switched to criminal justice because he decided it had good job potential, he said.

“The nice thing was my first semester I dropped those classes soon enough to change majors that semester,” he said. “So I should graduate on time.”

Angela Cummings-Hunter, an academic adviser in the College of Education and Human Services, said advisers try to direct students considering a major change toward other majors within their current college, where many of their credits will qualify for core curriculum requirements.

Hunter said she makes sure to ask students why they’ve chosen a major when they first decide to declare it as their major. She said a common response begins with “My parents …”

This isn’t the way to choose a major, Hunter said.

“It’s not about your parents, it’s about you,” she said.

She said students’ who’ve chosen possible careers based solely on their parents’ encouragement often realize their parents aren’t the ones who will have to live with that choice.

The IBHE Steering Committee also  looked at the amount of credits students earned at  community college.

Allen said many of the students who graduated last spring transferred to SIUC from community college. Some students had more credit hours than needed because they transferred and couldn’t use all of the credits they earned, he said.

“A whole lot of students spend too much time in community college, and they can only use a certain amount of those credits,” she said.

Cummings-Hunter said she works with community college counselors to determine what classes students should take based on what they plan to study after transferring.

While university advisers may not play a large role in students’ advisement before they transfer, Allen said enhanced career counseling, which begins as soon as a student gets to a university, can help students decide what to study and finish their degrees with less than 144 credits.

He said advisement and career counseling is not just the adviser’s responsibility.

“We’re not blaming our advisers for this, we’re actually asking our students to pay more attention,” he said.

 

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