By: Shane McGrady, Megan Sharkey, Kevin Bond, and Laura Stephens

Millersville University of Pennsylvania currently has a process for academic advisement and registration that some students would say is not very helpful or conducive to the current technological environment in which we live. Millersville needs and would benefit from an online electronic academic planning system. This system would help to increase student understanding of future course schedules and provide a general timeline of when those courses should be completed.

As many of you know, once a prospective student has committed to attending Millersville, they are assigned an academic advisor in their declared academic major and minor if applicable. Students who have not declared a major are assigned to an exploratory advisor. Every student is required to meet with their academic advisor once a semester to discuss future course schedules and to receive a TAP number. This number allows students to register during their scheduled time.

This current process of academic advising is becoming obsolete. The modern student likes doing everything online or using some kind of technology and are pushing universities to move in this direction. We’re living in the stone age when it comes to our advising process. According to R. J. Multari from the University of Buffalo, “First, customers expect it: computer-literate students are eager to interact electronically. Second, it is easy—or certainly easier than in the past—to incorporate technology into advisement and retention management.”

The electronic academic planner is a software program that would be able to simulate a tentative course schedule for each student in the university. This would be able to layout the courses a student should be taking to stay on track for a timely graduation. It would alert the students of prerequisites and possible elective choices in order for students to register for the most effective schedule. Students would have the ability to submit what-if inquiries that would show them their ability pick up a double major or a minor and how that would affect their anticipated graduation.

This system would provide many benefits to students. The students would be assured that they received proper guidance on which courses to take and when to take them. An academic advisor would still be assigned to each student and would continue to provide guidance if needed, but meeting with them would not be a requirement. This system would also provide feedback to the provost’s office as well as the registrar on which courses are in high demand. The offices would be able to query data from the program and could more closely estimate the amount of seats needed for a particular course.
After speaking with Millersville’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Vilas Prabhu, we discovered that the four year graduation rate at Millersville is 37% and the six year graduation rate is 63%. Although Millersville is above the four and six year national average graduation rates, 22% and 48% respectively, an academic planning system can help to increase these rates. The five year average of first year to second year retention rates is 82%. This rate decreases as you move from second year to third year and third year to fourth year. These rates do not take into consideration transfer or part-time students.

The electronic academic planner will help to improve graduation rates, especially in the four year category, because students will have the ability to see their future and plan accordingly. An improvement in retention rates can help to increase revenues because the students who are choosing to stay at Millersville will continue to pay tuition dollars.

“Vince Tinto, a nationally recognized retention scholar, notes that strengthening institutional efforts aimed at increasing student retention may be a more effective enrollment-management strategy than devoting more resources to increasing student recruitment.” “At the University of St. Louis, it is estimated that each 1% increase in first-year retention rate generates approximately $500,000 in revenue by the time these first-year students eventually graduate”

Additionally, faculty members would benefit from this electronic academic planner. Recently, with less state appropriations from the state, Millersville has faced budget cuts across the board. Faculty positions have been cut which has been reducing the amount of sections for available courses and has increased class size. Faculty members are being asked to take on more and more responsibility in order to provide the quality to the students and protect the core academic excellence that Millersville strives to provide. This system would aid in decreasing the amount of time faculty members have to spend advising students about class registration. It would not substitute the career advising, personal advising, or additional academic aid that many professors provide, but a meeting with each advisee would not be required each semester. This would help to reduce stress levels of faculty and students during the middle of the semester when the stress levels are already at maximum capacity.

Ryan Wentz, a junior math education student, said, “An advising system like this would be great. Due to poor advising my freshman year of college, I now have to take two summer courses and a winter course next year to ensure that I can graduate in four years. A system like this would have saved me time and money.” Ryan is not the only person on campus that has had a similar experience.

The return on investment from this electronic academic planner system would be tremendous. Student satisfaction, quality of learning, and overall morale would increase as a result of this system. Students would no longer need to stress about squeezing a meeting in with an academic advisor that may or may not be helpful. Faculty morale may increase as well due to relief from an extremely time consuming responsibility.