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Students with outstanding credits won’t be graduating this May

As in December’s commencement ceremony, students with outstanding credits will not be allowed to walk across the graduation stage.

In years past, UMBC has allowed students to walk across the stage even if they are a few credits shy of actually completing their degree. This permits students to walk across the stage during the semester they initially hoped they would, and then come back to school to finish the final requirements they have yet to satisfy.

However, this is no longer be an option for impending graduates. As the registrar’s website now states, “Students may only participate in one commencement ceremony based upon the semester in which all degree requirements will be met.” The site goes on to forewarn that “exceptions for undergraduate commencement participation will not be considered.”

The decision to make the change in procedure was not made by a single person or party. As Pamela Hawley, acting registrar, explained, “The changes in our practices regarding eligibility to walk at graduation were in fact a collaborative effort among multiple departments at UMBC and were made to improve our commencement practices.”

The change was spurred from a poll conducted in October 2013 by the Academic Standards Advisory Committee, which was created to identify the top three priorities for the 2013-2014 school year. After tallying the results, one of the top priorities identified was “Eligibility requirements for undergraduate commencement participation.”

The ASAC, a body that allows SGA representation, then made a formal recommendation which they preceded to pass along to the Academic Standards Executive Committee. Linus DasSarma, an SGA representative on the committee, said, “[It] was not clear if changing the current walking policy would truly impact graduation rates or not, but ultimately there was agreement [within ASAC] to address the numerous challenges presented.”

The ASEC supported the proposal and, from there, according to Vice Provost Yvette Mozie-Ross, “the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Office of Enrollment Management partnered to move the recommendation of the ASAC and the ASEC forward for campus community review.”

President Freeman Hrabowski approved the proposal on January 7, 2015.

Some students have expressed concern with the new practice. SGA Senator Augustus Williams said, “I believe that they should have announced this further in advance, and had some student input into the decision, since this decision impacts us the most. I personally didn’t enter school planning to finish the degree requirements after graduating, but I like it as an option in case something goes wrong.”

Like other students, Williams might be negatively impacted by the decision. He explained, “I have to repeat physics, so I may not be able to graduate on time.”

Although some students like Williams were seemingly unaware of the transition, Assistant Vice Provost Amanda Knapp said, “Once the new practice was approved by the university in January 2015, information was widely disseminated to students, faculty and staff via multiple mechanisms such as newsletters, emails, myUMBC spotlights, Twitter, campus presentations, website announcements and updates, the Undergraduate Catalog and even noted on the application for graduation.”

Williams has considered taking action in the form of starting a petition. He said, “I’ve looked into starting a petition, but I wanted to make sure I had all the facts on this decision first. So I can’t give a concrete answer, but as soon as I get that information, I will make a petition if I feel like that’s what is needed to change the decision.”

He hopes that students vocalize their dissatisfaction with the change in commencement procedure. He added, “I feel like it’s no secret that it is hard for people to graduate on time from this school, and there should not be more roadblocks added. I feel many other students will agree with that statement, and will seek to help decide their future. Students should at least have a say in the decisions that impact their academic future and life after college.”

The practice of letting students walk with outstanding credits was relatively unique to UMBC. Other universities in the area have, for years, maintained graduation requirements that deny students the ability to walk across the stage before completing all the necessary prerequisites.

Mozie-Ross, though, feels the transition was one that needed to be made. She said, “The increased focus at the institutional, state and national level on degree completion and reducing time-to-degree presented an opportunity for UMBC to re-examine our practices and policies to ensure that they were, in fact, serving to support and facilitate timely degree completion. The eligibility requirements for undergraduate commencement participation was identified as an area that had implications for time-to-degree and therefore warranted immediate attention.”

She added, “Commencement signals the start of a new stage, new beginning. And, while students are well-intended, we know that when students find themselves at commencement having not yet completed their degree requirements, it can be very difficult for students to put their plans on hold after the celebration to resume their studies.”

Editor’s note: Linus DasSarma is an employee of The Retriever.