MADISON — The University of Wisconsin System is on target in its effort to reduce the average number of total credits necessary to obtain a baccalaureate degree, while maintaining the integrity of degree programs, according to a report to be presented to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents next week.

In its sixth annual “Accountability for Achievement Report,” UW System Administration will present a status report on its 18 core accountability measures. The report is informational and requires no Board of Regent action.

System President Katharine C. Lyall said the UW’s 13 two-year and 13 four-year campuses have stemmed the “credit creep” that evolved over many years for several reasons, including the addition of new degree requirements without compensating reductions. While many students complete four-year degree programs within eight semesters, UW graduates who start as new freshmen have typically taken 143 credits by the time they finish, or the equivalent of an extra semester.

Recognizing the resulting cost to students and additional demand on the University resources, the Board of Regents directed that each UW institution set its own goal for reducing the average number of attempted credits to degree.

All UW campuses have now established required credits for a bachelor’s degree in a range from 120 to 128 credits.

“The upward ‘creep’ has been halted,” Lyall said, “and the downward movement has begun. We are on track to reach our goal of an average of 140 credits attempted by 2000. Reducing the average credits taken will open up capacity to serve more students in the future.

“The ability to make systemwide adjustments such as this is an important management tool that helps our institutions make maximum use of finite state resources,” Lyall explained.

“UW institutions are working hard to ensure the availability of required courses to students. We are also improving the advising and transfer process, and are encouraging students to earn college credits in high school.”

As a result of these efforts, Lyall noted, UW graduates who start in the system as new freshmen and who graduate at the same UW institution have already met the 2000 goal of 140 credits.

Lyall noted that while individual students may opt to complete course credits beyond the number required for their bachelor’s degree, it is her belief that the majority of students want to finish their undergraduate studies in the shortest time possible in order to enter the workforce.

Among other findings of the 1998 Accountability Report:

96 percent of 1996-97 UW System graduates entered the workforce or continued their education. UW System career services offices, using “destination surveys,” report that on average 86 percent of 1996-97 degree recipients are in the workforce and 10 percent are continuing their education.

The 1997-98 renewal rates of multicultural and female faculty averaged 98 percent — about the same as for white males, which is the UW System goal.

The UW System is hiring women and multicultural faculty at the same or slightly higher rates than the national Ph.D. availability pool.

As expected, plans for developing a revised accountability report are under way and will be implemented with the 1999 report, Lyall said.

“To date, the report format has been useful to demonstrate the UW System’s accountability to the state,” she said. “But it did not provide us as much information as we need to manage the enterprise for continuous improvement. For example, we currently have no indicators of the use of instructional technology or distance education, which are an increasingly important part of quality higher education. We need to look at ways to update our indicators and make them more useful as management tools.”

The report will be presented to the Board of Regents Education Committee on Dec. 10. The report is also distributed to members of the Wisconsin Legislature and the Governor.


Peter D. Fox
(608) 262-6448