On Campus

A degree in four years—guaranteed

Calgary get massive press coverage for promise, but doesn't expect to cough up tuition funds in 2012

It’s a common problem that affects students from coast to coast: even for those who successfully navigate the difficulty and cost of university, it can be difficult to earn a bachelor’s degree in only four years.

Shane Turner, a third-year engineering student at Simon Fraser University, originally planned to push through school in four years, but is now aiming for five instead. “Even if you know what you want to take from the beginning, you can’t always get the courses,” said Turner, who switched his major in second year and hoped to catch up during the summer.

He said that a combination of course availability, scheduling conflicts, and finances prevented him from graduating in four years. “I had to work in the summer to afford tuition and the course times wouldn’t work.”

But first-year students at one Canadian university may not face Turner’s dilemma starting this year. The University of Calgary announced Monday it was guaranteeing first-year students will be able to graduate in four years—or the university pledged to pick up the tuition tab for extra courses.

What the university is calling its “graduation guarantee” – reportedly the first of its kind in Canada – doesn’t come without strings. Students must also commit to earning good grades, maintaining a full course load, declaring a major by the end of first year, and meeting regularly with an academic advisor to ensure they are on the right track. They also have to sign up by the end of this week.

For it’s part, the U of C guarantees that all required courses will available, and if they aren’t, it says it will pay the tuition for additional courses required beyond the four-year mark. U of C will also provide academic advisors to negotiate scheduling problems.

Aside from the tuition promise, the program differs from what U of C already offers by boosting already existing advising services. “One of the things [U of C’s advisors] noticed is that sometimes students in their third or fourth year are not able to get all of the courses that they need to complete their degree in a timely fashion,” said U of C vice-provost (students) Ann Tierney. “Sometimes it’s because they haven’t sought advising early enough and they don’t have their courses in sequence and sometimes it’s a scheduling conflict.”

Students registered in the program will be required to meet with an advisor before every semester and they will have a specific advisor assigned to them. The advisor will also advocate on their behalf in the case of a scheduling conflict or if a there is no room in a required class.

U of C has hired a new academic advisor specifically for the program. “We’ve also increased advising resources across the university because we want to make sure all of our students have access to excellent guidance,” said Tierney. She estimates that the investment in this program is in $100,000 range.

So how much is U of C putting aside to pay for tuition of those who don’t graduate in 2012? Zero. “The ideal situation is that we won’t find ourselves in a position of having to pay the tuition for a student to return,” Tierney said.

Tierney expects that the program will have an effect on U of C’s average graduation time, which is currently over five years.
Student union president Dalmy Baez doesn’t think this guarantee will necessarily address the delayed graduation problem. She told the Calgary Herald that the university’s responsibilities in the agreement are vague and there is no way to measure the success of the program until the first crop of participates graduate in 2012.

Nonetheless, Baez supports the program. “Students taking longer to graduate affects accessibility for all U of C students.”

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