Jul. 30, 2014

Split degrees

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April 17, 2014

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It takes a special kind of student to split his or her four years at two different universities, continents apart. First offered to the Class of 2015, the College of William and Mary St Andrews Joint Degree Programme requires its students to spend two years at each institution. While many find it a rewarding mix of educational experiences, the dropout rate has been high, with 11 of 30 College-based Class of 2015 students leaving the program. If the College wants to preserve the St Andrews program, it needs to limit turnover by attracting applicants who will stay committed all four years and easing the transition process for St Andrews-bound students.

Currently, the only additional requirement for a student applying to the St Andrews program is to “provide a 1500-2000 word essay outlining why you are pursuing this joint degree option.” This question is too broad and doesn’t address the specifics of the program — mainly, why someone would want to attend college in two different places. The application should frame a question based on past student experiences and common reasons that might cause students to drop the program. It should be a tool used to identify qualities that would make students more likely to continue the program. A stricter application process could also weed out less enthusiastic applicants, and allow the rest to more thoughtfully consider their involvement.

Tailoring the application process to more committed students would require the College to get feedback from students in the program. The College should create an atmosphere of trust, both here and at St Andrews, for students to share their experiences, concerns and suggestions for improving the program.

Maintaining a support system for students enrolled in the program is important as well. After their freshman year, students have made friendships, and have hopefully grown attached to the College. Having to repeat the same process again somewhere else may be difficult. The College should create more opportunities for students in the St Andrews program to connect with each other and take advantage of St Andrews resources. In the coming years, the College and St Andrews should create a network of students, faculty and administrators to ease the transition for new students. This would also link both institutions more closely together.

The College should improve its strategy for preparing freshmen for the academics at St Andrews. In contrast to American colleges, where one’s grade is determined by multiple tests and assignments, St Andrews classes generally have only one test, which counts for 100 percent of a student’s grade. This may be jarring for American students, who comprise the vast majority of the St Andrews program. In addition to the St Andrews freshman seminar, the College could offer classes to prepare students for the St Andrews format, allowing those students to acclimate and prepare.

The College’s St Andrews Joint Degree Programme is valuable — for certain types of students. Encouraging those students to apply and improving their experience at both institutions should be a priority going forward.

Meredith Ramey recused herself from this staff editorial to remain unbiased in her reporting.

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