How and why The University of Chicago successfully transformed their degree audit

Transforming the degree audit is known to bring great benefits to institutions, boosting completion rates and fostering better collaboration between faculty, advisors, and students. Studies show that universities that have digitized their degree audit have seen a 50 percent decrease in non-graduated students. 

The University of Chicago has seen the benefits of a modern, digitized degree audit first-hand. By upgrading to Stellic, the University took its graduation clearance process from months to a matter of hours and boosted its student adoption rate to 92%. Below, we share how UChicago transformed advising, streamlined degree audit, and embraced a new way of supporting and tracking academic journeys across campus.

The University of Chicago’s “Old Normal”

The University of Chicago welcomes approximately 17,800 undergraduate students each year — all of whom can design their course loads based on a catalog of over 100 unique classes.

To accommodate the catalog, the University of Chicago’s original degree audit system was only advisor-facing, which made reporting a challenge. For example, it took the registrar’s office months to prepare degree audits, and advisors couldn’t pull data in real-time without the help of IT.

To make do, advisors at UChicago hand-crafted tentative pathways for each student. In their first meeting with a student, they would discuss a potential plan, and then give the student a few options to consider. Students would then return with a finalized copy of their degree plan on paper when they were ready.

But without automated reminders, students weren’t inclined to come back to the advising office. Even when advisors had hard copies of most of their students’ plans, it was hard to track their progress and pinpoint the ones who were falling behind. And one-off conversations with department heads weren’t documented, making exception processing difficult.

A New, All-in-one Solution

UChicago staff needed a way to centralize their student data and present it in a digestible form to students, advisors, and department heads. Ideally, this platform would have built-in reporting, messaging, and notification capabilities to enable more in-depth advising and streamline degree management.

Stellic’s all-in-one platform was the answer. Some of the major features that appealed to the University of Chicago selection committee were Stellic’s:

  • Cloud-based infrastructure - Students and advisors could communicate in real-time and collaborate on up-to-date information. Plus, staff in the Registrar’s Office could deploy backend changes quickly with minimal disruption. 
  • Forward-looking progress and planning - Students and advisors could plan much further ahead to avoid common obstacles to graduation, such as study abroad programs, and could test out different majors or minors.
  • “Ready when you are” approach - With Stellic, the University could take a crawl, walk, run approach, implementing a few key modules upfront and then expanding its digital transformation with additional modules later.
  • Bi-directional integration - Everyone at the University could operate with the freshest data, preventing errors that could cost the advising staff and students time and money.
  • Customizability - Stellic is a flexible platform that can accommodate the unique needs of each school. For the University of Chicago, this meant adapting to their quarter system schedule and large cross-listed course catalog.

The Impacts

When the University of Chicago went live with its previous advising platform, it took two full-time staff nine months to prepare degree audits. Stellic’s automation tools made it possible for the same staff members to prepare audits in less than half the time. But Stellic’s fast and easy implementation was only one aspect of the University’s journey to success. Since then, UChicago has seen positive results in all facets of advising, student support, and campus efficiency.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact of students, advisors, and departmental administrators working on the same platform, and seeing the same thing. Students can make plans that are immediately available to advisors who can determine whether or not they are appropriate and communicate those plans to departmental leadership. It has been an enormously positive change.” - Zachary Swartz, Deputy Registrar, The University of Chicago

Student Empowerment

Students at UChicago are reaping the benefits of a more relevant curriculum and customized advising and degree planning experience. They feel more supported by advisors who have established an online and offline relationship with them. And with Stellic in their back pocket, students are more equipped and excited to tackle their academic career. 

Translating the University’s complex catalog into clear requirements helps provide students with greater visibility into exactly what they are missing in their plans. Exposing students to systems sooner than they traditionally would gets them excited and increases platform adoption. Today, the University of Chicago’s adoption rate hovers around 92%.

“For me, the overarching theme with Stellic is that it saves a lot of time and reduces a lot of academic anxiety. I love how easy it is to plan ahead and drag courses to see how they would fit, and look at the balance of courses within the year as a whole. And, in general, being able to easily see your progress is immense.” - Fourth Year Economics and Public Policy Student, The University of Chicago

Proactive Advising

Stellic promotes seamless collaboration between advisors and advisees — both parties see the same information, requirements, and progress. This view allows advisors to be more strategic with students, in such a way that considers what they've already taken and their goals.

When students are off-track, Stellic sends advisors alerts, giving them room to address issues before they escalate. Advisors can also create and run their own reports of students who have low GPAs or haven’t met certain requirements.

“Advisors can create their own filtered reports and predetermined criteria for students missing requirements at any time. Stellic gives advisors a lot more flexibility to track the students that are important to them while interacting with the tool in an easy, functional way.” - Zachary Swartz, Deputy Registrar, The University of Chicago

Stellic promotes ad hoc and asynchronous communication as well. Advisors can triage students’ problems on a deeper level or answer questions with out-of-the-box meeting scheduling and messaging features.

Maximized Registrar Resources

Updating Stellic with new courses or curriculum adjustments only takes registrar staff a few clicks. They can also pull their own reports and provide accurate information to other areas of the University — all without the help of IT.

“We built 3-years of catalogs in Stellic from scratch when we launched, and doing that took us less than half the time it took to implement our previous solution. The ease of the user interface for builders was a huge change for us — and not just for the initial build. If something was wrong, the process of making the change, updating the audit rule, and pushing it out to students has dramatically saved resources on the registrar staff.” - Zachary Swartz

The intuitive nature of the platform enabled the registrar’s office to experience a significant increase in departmental participation via technology. Getting everyone into the same platform improved visibility and strengthened the partnership between registrar and departmental staff, simplifying planning, forecasting, and exception handling along the way.

“When the advising staff saw how exception processing worked in Stellic, it was the last thing they needed to see to get onboard. It’s been an enormous time-saver. And it’s a lot easier to see when, why, and how exceptions were processed because it’s visible within the audit to anyone who pulls it up.” - Zachary Swartz

Data-Driven Decision-Making

Prior to using Stellic, it would take IT days to generate reports. Even then, the resulting information was limited to students who had already declared a major or minor and enrolled in particular courses. Now, the registrar’s office can make better predictions by pulling that information plus the number of students that have indicated an interest in a particular major or minor. Stellic’s analytics have helped the University of Chicago project course demand two to three years in advance.

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