Clarion University’s alumni base has grown by more than 80, thanks to updated program requirements and a good bit of legwork by university faculty and staff.
In fall of 2018, Dr. Suzanne Boyden became director of Clarion University College of Arts and Sciences' liberal studies program. She wanted to make the degree work better for all students across campus, so she began to examine the requirements.
"The liberal arts degree required 24 credits of upper-level courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, which meant a student coming from business, education or health sciences could not count a lot of their coursework," Boyden said.
With the support of Faculty Senate and the Committee on Courses and Programs of Study, the university changed the requirements so that classes from all of the academic colleges would count to satisfy the upper level coursework requirement. The program was renamed integrative studies.
"Once we made those changes, I realized that there were likely a large number of students who thought they needed more classes to graduate, but, with the new degree, could be done," Boyden said.
She explained that students who change majors several times, or in some cases transfer between a few schools, can accumulate many credits without completing the 50 to 60 credits of required majors coursework.
Boyden worked with Missy Kube, secretary to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to review the records of students who had left Clarion University in the last 10 years and had earned 114 credits or more. So far, Clarion University has awarded more than 80 degrees to former students as a result of this outreach campaign.
"When we find a student that we can clear for graduation, we send an email or call them. Some of them have been gone eight or nine years, and they are so surprised when they hear that they have earned a diploma," Boyden said.
"Most of the students we are tracking down have a lot of general education coursework and are missing some of the final upper level classes required in their original major," she said. "We hear a lot of different stories about why they never finished their degree. Often, life just got in the way of school, and they left thinking that they would return to finish, but never managed to make it happen."
Kube and Boyden help students to reapply and find the best path to graduation, whether it is their original degree or an integrative studies degree. The integrative studies degree can be paired with a minor or can be focused on a particular subject like communication or writing, through one of 13 concentrations. Part of the process is carefully reviewing and using transfer credits, as the system is more flexible than it used to be; students can apply 90 credits from other schools toward a Clarion degree. A number of students have re-enrolled at Clarion to finish a few courses online once they understood how close they were to diploma.
Many former students have realized the value of having a college degree in today's workforce and that a specific major may be less important that they once thought. "Many students we've spoken to had hit a ceiling in their current jobs and could not be promoted further without a college degree," Boyden said. "A woman working as a librarian in the Pacific Northwest told us that within a week of getting her integrative studies degree, she was promoted to a position that had formerly been out of her reach."
Such stories illustrate why it is so important to have a degree like integrative studies, which values and can count all of the work a student has done and creates a much more flexible path toward graduation.
Boyden said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Dr. Ellen Foster has since taken over as director of integrative studies. She continues to work with Kube to identify former students who are eligible for the degree. Kube said in fall 2019, she reached out to 350 more students. Because emails and phone numbers change, finding students can be hard.
Those who think they might benefit from a new review of their Clarion coursework and transfer credits from other institutions are encouraged reach out to Kube at firstname.lastname@example.org, 814-393-2225 or Foster at email@example.com, 814-393-2158.