Enhancing the attractiveness of joint undergraduate and graduate degrees

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Enhancing the attractiveness of joint undergraduate and graduate degrees

March 01, 2022

Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship logo

Courtney B. Smith

Seton Hall University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

The impending demographic cliff is creating undergraduate enrollment challenges, especially for institutions in the Northeast, where my university is located. One strategy to offset the expected revenue decline is growing graduate enrollment, and an institution’s existing undergraduate students are a fruitful market to target. By saving time and money, joint undergraduate and graduate degrees are an attractive way to keep strong students on campus for an additional year.

Seton Hall’s new strategic plan, Harvest Our Treasures, recognizes this potential with a goal to explore strategies for enhancing and creating affordable and academically sound joint degree programs.

Issues identified include:

  1. Affordability
  2. Curricular design
  3. Faculty incentives
  4. Budget incentives
  5. Market research

The first, affordability, is the focus of year one implementation. Joint undergraduate and graduate degrees (3+2 or 4+1 programs) are designed in various ways. Some programs use only undergraduate course waivers, which maximizes the transcript value for students (more graduate classes included) and revenue for the institution (since graduate tuition is often higher). At the other end of the spectrum, some programs maximize waivers of graduate coursework to increase the applicability of undergraduate scholarships and financial aid in year four.

Most programs on our campus fall somewhere in between, an approach consistent with our current policy regarding fourth-year financing. Unfortunately, confusion is common when students are taking graduate courses yet still earning their undergraduate degree. This also creates challenges for the Bursar’s Office since manual adjustments are required for each student’s bill. A committee of faculty and administrators, which I chair, is exploring strategies for reducing these challenges regarding financing in the fourth year of study.

Four areas of research are in progress:

  • Analysis of students who entered in a joint degree program but switched to an undergraduate degree (roughly 600 students across last five years)
  • Analysis of students who require manual tuition adjustments (typically 50 per semester with about 10 benefiting from the current policy)
  • Survey of recent alumni (last five years) who successfully completed joint degrees, which was designed with a broad focus to gather information relevant to implementation priorities in subsequent years of the strategic plan, is in deployment
  • Survey (SWOT format) of faculty and administrators who offer joint degree programs was also designed with a broad focus and is in deployment

After the data from these surveys is analyzed, our committee expects to make proposals in two areas: a change in scholarship policy to allow students more flexibility in year four and a pilot program offering scholarship packages for all five years.

The EAB Fellowship enabled me to explore this issue while simultaneously learning about key trends in higher education. Helpful resources include 4+1 and 3+2 Programs: Program Creation, Implementation, and Assessment from EAB and Transitioning Undergraduate Students into Graduate Students from Hanover. I am grateful to two capstone partners, Katie Linder and Sarah Watamura, for their advice and to Seton Hall's provost, Katia Passerini, for nominating me for this opportunity.

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Courtney B. Smith and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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