Frequently Asked Questions

General

Why are you recommending a revised continuous enrollment policy?

There are many benefits for students, faculty and programs that will accompany this policy change, and those benefits can be reviewed in the Benefits section.

The primary driving force behind revising the CEP is to provide students the benefits of increased institutional support and services that result from registration and official student status.

Higher education research suggests that graduate students who are continuously enrolled are more likely to complete their degrees. One reason is that continuous enrollment fosters close connections among faculty, staff and students and encourages timely degree completion. Continuous enrollment and communication also allow for early identification of struggles that may impede successful progress. As a campus, we always have room to improve our services and support to foster graduate degree completion, and the CEP is intended to be one tool in these efforts.

How did you consult with students and faculty about the CEP?

The proposed revised CEP has been discussed extensively by the Administrative Board of the Graduate School, a faculty board with representatives from across the campus, including the Graduate and Professional Student Federation. The Board's Academic Policy Committee has been discussing possible revisions and ideas for ensuring continuous enrollment for over two years. The process also benefited early on from conversations with the deans of all the schools and colleges on campus.

Most significantly, there was a special task force focused exclusively on brainstorming, researching, and developing the revised CEP. This group met in the summer and fall of 2008 and worked tirelessly to create an equitable, realistic, and beneficial CEP draft policy. Students, faculty and staff from multiple disciplines on campus were involved to represent their groups' interests.Feedback from the campus has informed additional changes to the drafts and continues to do so today.

For additional details on the activities to date, please review the Process and Timeline page.

Many graduate students, faculty members, and program administrators have provided comments and raised issues as they've reviewed and discussed the proposed changes. A change of this magnitude relies on thoughtful review and critique, analysis and research, and open feedback. The process of consultation is continuing.

Were surveys conducted of faculty and students to gauge compliance with the current continuous enrollment policy or understanding of the proposed changes?

It was discussed early on that the revised CEP process does not lend itself to a standard quantitative survey. The themes, benefits, and regulations involved in continuous registration are incredibly complex, much too difficult to adequately and accurately gauge in short survey questions.It took graduate research assistants and staff months of work to research all the questions and complexities inherent in such a multifaceted policy.Participants in the various CEP groups spent a great deal of time just understanding the process and brainstorming ideas before beginning to draft elements of the policy.

There has never been a desire to highlight students or graduate programs which are not following the current continuous enrollment standard on campus. While it is apparent there is misinformation and unclear guidance on campus, the goals for the revised policy have always been to ensure students receive the services and support they need to complete their graduate degrees.

Therefore, instead of a quantitative survey format, a more collaborative, discussion oriented process was developed and followed to draft the proposed CEP.This website is the culmination of much of that research and work and will continue to be updated in the coming months as work continues.

What does continuous enrollment mean? How is it different from registration?

In the CEP materials, the terms “enrollment” and “registration” are used interchangeably. The proposed “continuous enrollment” refers to the requirement that graduate students register each fall and spring semester from matriculation until degree completion, unless they are on an approved leave of absence or withdraw from the University.

Will time to degree limits change as a result of the CEP?Will continuous enrollment shorten average time-to-degree?

Maximum time limits for degree completion remain unchanged: five years for master's degrees and eight years for doctoral degrees.

The proposed CEP makes no assumption about how long it takes students to complete their degrees. Disciplines vary in the length of time required to complete degrees, and this variation is expected.The revised CEP will not change the academic requirements or expectations of the faculty.

What do other universities do?

Most of the other research universities in the Association of American Universities (AAU) have a continuous enrollment requirement for graduate students to foster a positive environment for degree completion. Carolina is not leading the way in these efforts.

Several graduate students have served as research assistants to help identify best practices and policies at other campuses, especially among those that Carolina considers its peers. Each institution has its own particular combination of policies and practices in support of the goals of continuous enrollment.The revised CEP has been informed by a review of the policies at other institutions, but is tailored to Carolina's structure and unique culture.

The following file lists peer institutions and whether or not they have a continuous enrollment requirement: Best Practices Among Peer AAU Institutionspdf icon

Will special exceptions or appeals be allowed in the CEP?

As is the case today, the Graduate School would work with unusual circumstances on an individual basis. There will also be a standard appeals clause in the CEP policy which would allow students who believe they have unique circumstances to appeal requests appropriately.

What evidence supports the claim that continuous enrollment results in higher completion rates?

Higher education research highlights a number of factors critical to graduate degree progress that are fostered by continuing student status and progress. Both the students and their programs must remain engaged in the continued progress process for graduate education to be most effective.

Research conducted by Michael Nettles and Catherine Millett indicates that from a sample of 21 universities, 9,000 doctoral students, and five fields of study (humanities, engineering, social science, science and mathematics, and education), “the largest predictor of steady progress in every field was continuous full-time enrollment” (Three Magic Letters, Getting to Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, table 11.18, p. 171).

In February 2007, the National Center for Education Statistics released “The Path Through Graduate School: A Longitudinal Examination 10 Years After Bachelors Degree”. The table on page 60 compares the degree attainment rates for students who were continuously enrolled (67.9%) to those students who took off at least one semester (56.4%). This research was based on a stratified sample with data collected at 4 points in time from about 8,000 students. Their conclusions include the finding that “rates of persistence and completion were higher among students who…attended full time and enrolled continuously.”

A number of other researchers who have looked at graduate study completion and time-to-degree consistently report the positive benefits of the connections between students and their faculty and programs.Also critical are the connections between students and their fellow students. Program and university structure also contribute positively. While many studies do not focus on continuous enrollment alone, the factors identified are reinforced by students' continuous enrollment. The enrollment requirement by itself does not make the difference; rather the requirement brings a greater likelihood that students will be connected to their programs, be actively engaged with their faculty mentors, have a structure that encourages their progress, and have milestones and deadlines that provide a path to successful completion.

Benefits

What are the benefits of the revised CEP from the perspective of graduate students?

  • Appropriate access to University services and resources for students throughout their graduate studies
  • Confirmation of official student status and University affiliation and all rights such status affords
  • Continuous communication and interaction between graduate students and faculty advisors
  • Encouragement and support for degree completion, increasing the likelihood that more students will earn their intended degrees
  • Equity in responsibility and requirements for all students across disciplines

For additional information on the benefits of a revised CEP, please review the Benefits page.

What are the benefits of the revised CEP from the perspective of faculty?

  • Continuous communication and interaction between graduate students and faculty advisors, which includes giving faculty the proper credit for their advising and mentoring responsibilities
  • Creating a regular need for students to affirm their intentions and their progress towards degrees
  • Improved capability for graduate programs and faculty members to monitor progress and remain in touch with all students in their programs
  • Encouragement and support for degree completion, increasing the likelihood that more of the program's students will earn their intended degrees

For additional information on the benefits of a revised CEP, please review the Benefits page.

What are the benefits of the revised CEP from the perspective of graduate programs?

  • Appropriate access to University services and resources for students throughout their graduate studies
  • Improved capability for graduate programs and faculty members to monitor progress and remain in touch with all students in their programs
  • Full and comprehensive information about the graduate student population to support decision-making and policy development
  • Encouragement and support for degree completion, increasing the likelihood that more of the program's students will earn their intended degrees

For additional information on the benefits of a revised CEP, please review the Benefits page.

What are the benefits of the revised CEP for administration (school, college, program and departmental administrators, Graduate School, Provost's Office, Registrar, Cashier, Budget and Planning, etc.)?

  • Knowledge about who is an active student makes it easier to communicate with students, administer the services that are important to them, and learn more about what they need and how they are progressing
  • Enrollment information and comprehensive statistics will accurately reflect the full graduate student population, which makes planning more effective
  • More complete information on students and their experiences promotes better decisions in both policy and practice matters, and supports more effective financial planning for student support

For additional information on the benefits of a revised CEP, please review the Benefits page.

Registration

How many credit hours do students need to register for to satisfy the registration requirement?

Any level of registration satisfies the revised CEP. At the beginning of graduate study, students' course elections determine their credit hour load and hence their tuition. Full-time status is set as 9.0 hours of normal graduate-level course registration. Some graduate programs allow part-time registration, including reduced campus resources; the CEP is intended to be flexible and would allow those practices to continue.

Although any level of registration would satisfy the CEP requirement, there are other University or governmental policies that apply to some students. Students must be aware of these requirements and meet them, including any requirements to maintain full-time student status (e.g., RA or TA appointments, visa requirements, federal financial aid eligibility, etc.).

Do students have to register in the summer sessions?

No changes to the requirements for summer registration are being proposed. Graduate students who are taking courses, sitting for examinations, or who defend their theses or dissertations in the summer will need to register, which is the same as our current campus policy. Other students would not be expected to register, but will still have active student status during the summer.

Do part-time students have to register continuously?

Yes. The revised CEP will cover all students in all graduate programs. The CEP adheres to all minimum registration requirements of graduate programs, which typically require maintaining full-time status with all the allowances and services that full-time status affords. Some graduate programs allow part-time registration, including reduced campus resources; the CEP is intended to be flexible and would allow those practices to continue.

How is North Carolina residency for tuition purposes affected by the CEP?

A new NC residency application is required every time a student is admitted to the University, whether it is the first admission or any time after a leave of absence or lapse in registration. If a student is continuously enrolled, and does not change permanent addresses or domicile locations on record, then there is no need to review the student's residency status. Under state statute, students are responsible for keeping their official address on record to determine residency.

NC residency laws focus on domicile more than registration. For example, if a student takes a job in another state and changes addresses/tax location, but remains registered in courses here, they would still lose their in-state residency status after the grace period because their domicile location changed permanently. If a student travels for a period of time or works elsewhere in a summer, for example, but remains a NC permanent resident (i.e., keeps a home address and tax base here), then the domicile location does not change and thus they would still be a NC resident.

There are exceptions built into the NC residency laws (e.g., for military service, teachers, etc.) and students should confirm their status with their school's residency coordinator if they have questions. Please see North Carolina Residency for Tuition Purposes for additional information.

Leaves of Absence

Suppose a student with a personal emergency needs to stop attending graduate school; does the student still have to register and pay tuition?

Students will qualify for official leaves of absence under some circumstances. A student on an approved leave does not have to register. Students on approved leaves are able to return to their studies at the conclusion of the leave without applying for readmission and without penalty.

Students who decide to suspend their studies for longer periods, or for reasons that are not eligible for a leave, will be withdrawn. If they wish to return, they are eligible to apply for readmission.

Please see the Leave of Absence section for more details.

Suppose a student goes to study in another country; does the student still have to register and pay tuition?

Yes. Students who are working in any location off campus are devoting their full attention to research or study and making progress toward completion of their Carolina degree program. It is appropriate that their status reflect the full-time student nature of their endeavors. The revised CEP will include options for students in this exact scenario.

Further, a goal is that students conducting degree requirements off campus will still have access to appropriate distance-based University's resources and services, especially the time and attention of their faculty advisors, the University Library, and other information technology resources. Technological and travel advances diminish the barriers of time and place, and this will become increasingly true in the future. Most students working off campus can continue to work with their faculty advisors, call on their program office for information or services, use University services such as the Institutional Review Board or financial aid office, and other distance-based services.

These students should also have the ability to hold full-time student status for external entities and federal financial aid guidelines. These services and statuses are only granted through full-time registration.

Some external fellowships don't include funds to pay tuition. How will students who receive these prestigious awards cover the cost of tuition?

The Graduate School, schools and colleges, departments and graduate programs, and students often share the cost of tuition when students are awarded prestigious external fellowships. For example, the Graduate School's Graduate Tuition Incentive Scholarship (GTIS) fund would likely be an appropriate source of tuition support for students with an external fellowship that does not pay tuition costs. In addition, the Graduate School is currently investigating ways it can enhance its resources for tuition assistance and continues to lobby the NC General Assembly for additional tuition support funds.

Why isn't degree related research one of the reasons for which students are allowed to take a leave of absence?

Leaves of absence are appropriate for students who face circumstances that require them to discontinue work on their degrees to attend to other pressing matters. Students who are focused on degree related research are not on leave from their program but rather are actively pursuing program requirements. This element is not a change from current LOA policy.