Degree audits pass million milestone

A small gathering this afternoon just off of central campus will celebrate a big number: For the first time, Iowa State students, faculty and staff in one calendar year have run more than a million degree audits -- the snapshot-in-time tool initially created so students, academic advisers and registrar staff could review students' academic progress toward degrees. But its use has expanded way beyond final-semester individual queries from the undergraduate and professional (veterinary medicine) students who can access it.

An undergraduate Business student requested the millionth degree audit the morning of Nov. 5. Assistant registrar Karen Terpstra anticipates that number will exceed 1.2 million when 2019 wraps up in a few weeks.

"We've been close [to a million] the last few years," she said. "We think it's a great tool, and we're excited so many people are using it."

Terpstra and colleagues Jennifer Keahna and Amber Tiarks have primary responsibility for maintaining and updating the degree audit platform. The university purchased degree audit software called uAchieve, and the team customizes it -- almost constantly -- to mirror ISU curriculum and degree requirements.

"The more custom coding we add, the more robust a degree audit can be," Tiarks said.

The key to its reliability, though, is departments regularly submitting course and program changes, they agreed.

Why the growth?

While climbing enrollments from 2007 to 2016 partially contributed to higher numbers of degree audits amid greater awareness of them, Tiarks attributed much of the growth to more interest in "batch" audits -- covering a few dozen to a few thousand students -- for comparison and research purposes.

For example, degree audits are required each semester for U.S. veteran students and NCAA student-athletes. Many accrediting organizations require degree audits of all students in an academic program as part of their review. Even the keeper of the degree audit system, the registrar's office, bumped the frequency of its routine batch audit -- which tracks students' course and scheduling changes -- from once a semester to every other week. Terpstra said the greater frequency keeps the data more current for campus queries that mine that audit for data -- for example, what courses most often are used to satisfy a specific requirement.

Also useful is the "what-if" degree audit, which lets students contemplating a different major see how their completed classes would apply to another degree program.