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Software helps NY college students track progress toward degree

Nassau Community College is boosting its efforts to increase student retention and on-time graduation through a new software program called DegreeWorks.

The web-based auditing software allows students to see what courses they need, what order to take them in, and if they’re on track for an on-time graduation.

“The more user-friendly a tool is for students, the more we are able to help them be successful. And that is really the goal, that they succeed, that we retain them and then ultimately they graduate,” said Amanda Fox, director of academic advisement at Nassau Community College.

Nassau launched the program earlier this month, becoming one of 43 campuses across the State University system to implement DegreeWorks as part of SUNY’s Completion Agenda. The system’s goal is to award 150,000 degrees per year by 2025.

Farmingdale State College was one of the first to implement the software. Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury have been using the program for more than a year, according to SUNY. And Suffolk County Community College is getting ready for a soft launch over the next few weeks with full implementation for students in the fall, officials said.

Eventually all 64 SUNY campuses statewide will use DegreeWorks, creating a network that will make it easier for students to compare programs offered at various state schools, SUNY officials said at a board of trustees meeting last week. This will make it easier for students who are cross-registering at more than one campus, or planning on transferring between SUNY campuses, officials said.

It’s particularly helpful for community-college students who may be looking to move to a four-year college after earning their associate’s degree, said Fox of Nassau Community College, which has nearly 20,000 full- and part-time students.

The software also warns students if they make course selections that would adversely impact their financial aid, Fox said, such as those receiving state tuition assistance and the Excelsior Scholarship. The scholarship starting this fall provides tuition dollars for eligible middle-class students attending the state’s two- and four-year public institutions. It’s requirements include taking 30 credits per year.

Gone are the days of dog-earing and highlighting the course catalogue in preparation for meeting with your advisor, Old Westbury Registrar Patricia Smith joked. “This takes it to the next level particularly for students who are so used to technology.”

The colleges still require students to meet with an advisor, but the program helps better prepare them for the meeting and allows advisors to include notes to students within the system, said Erwin Cabrera, associate director of Farmingdale State’s Research-Aligned Mentoring program.

For first-generation and low-income students in particular, it can be an overwhelming task, understanding the pipeline to graduation, Cabrera said. “DegreeWorks as a whole really meets students where they are and helps students understand the bigger picture.”

Officials at Farmingdale State, which has had DegreeWorks in place since 2014, say the program has helped improve graduation rates.

— The four-year graduation rate for full-time, first-time baccalaureate degree students rose from 21.3 percent in August 2013 to 29 percent in August 2017.

— The six-year graduation rate increased from 42.6 percent in 2013 to 53.3 percent in 2017.

Source: Farmindale State College

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