Degree plans need to be less complicated

Poorly structured degree plans and overworked advisors have led to delayed graduation for many ECS students.

Sebyul Paik
Courtesy

If there’s anything that four years at UTD have taught me, it’s that ECS majors love complaining. But there’s a good reason ECS students are always whining about how hard college is, and it’s not that engineering and computer science are inherently more rigorous subjects. The ECS degree plans not only require more credit hours than any other degrees at UTD, but are structured to actively make graduating harder.

Most majors at UTD require completion of 120 credit hours to graduate, the minimum for a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university in the United States. ECS is the only school at UTD to require more than 120 hours in any major. Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering are the worst offenders, clocking in at a whopping 128 credit hours. For reference, the same number of hours could earn a JSOM or EPPS student a double major in Economics and Finance.

According to UTD’s 2022-2023 Undergraduate Catalog, which can be found at https://catalog.utdallas.edu/, a standard four-year plan requires students to complete 15 credit hours a semester. Except for ECS, which suggests that students take upwards of 16 hours most semesters. The Computer Science example plan, which can be found at https://catalog.utdallas.edu/2022/undergraduate/programs/ecs/computer-science/four-year, even suggests students take 19 hours one semester, which is the maximum a student can take without requesting special permission from their Associate Dean.

The only way for these degree plans to not result in students clawing their eyes out from stress is if students enter the program with already-completed credit hours. And to be fair, many students do start with credits from AP or dual-enrollment. But those resources aren’t accessible to every high school student, and not every student is enrolling right out of high school. Coming in with college credit also doesn’t solve the biggest issue with ECS’s degree plans: their lack of flexibility.

Every ECS degree plan contains at least one lengthy prerequisite path. One of the worst offenders is Mechanical Engineering, which has two prerequisite paths spanning eight semesters, meaning that failing any one of 16 courses will push back graduation.

“That goes from your freshman year to your senior year,” said Natasha Rahman, a senior Mechanical Engineering major. “On top of that, some of them are only offered in the spring or fall… So that means if you missed one class in the spring, you get behind a whole year.”

At a university that prides itself on the vast number of scholarships it awards, a single extra semester can be a financial disaster for students relying on four-year scholarships like AES or National Merit. It also drives away potential transfer students, who may be hoping to graduate in less than four years.

It doesn’t have to be this way. At Texas A&M, all engineering students take the same introductory courses, allowing students flexibility to change their specialization in their first year. At MIT, undergrads can’t even declare a major until sophomore year. All major-specific courses can be taken in six semesters or less. If UTD really wants to be the ‘MIT of the South,’ maybe our administration should start taking notes.

When asked how ECS could improve the Mechanical Engineering degree plan, Rahman suggested changing some required courses to “prescribed electives” (approved major-related courses), and some prerequisites to corequisites. But even without restructuring anything, there are still simple steps that ECS administration could take to make the lives of students easier.

Rahman has never failed a class. And yet, because they weren’t made aware of how they’re degree plan worked, they’re now starting their fifth year as a full-time student. Natasha retook a class during sophomore year, hoping to improve their grade, but their advisor didn’t notify them that it would push back their graduation.

“I wasn’t aware it connected to like seven million other things,” Rahman said.

More than one of Natasha’s degree setbacks could have been avoided if they had been better informed, or if ECS advisors had looked at their degree plan more carefully. This is true for many ECS students that may need help understanding their degree plan, but in order to actually help students, advisors need to be better trained and better staffed.

“When you’re going so fast — trying to chug through students, answer their questions — they lose information because they’re just doing so much at once,” Rahman said. “Sure, you can rework the degree plan. I would love to see that, but I think the biggest thing is… talk to your students. Teach them.”


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