Policy Elements

Minimum Enrollment

The main element of the revised Continuous Enrollment Policy (CEP) is continuing to emphasize that all enrolled students pursuing graduate degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will maintain continuous enrollment from matriculation until completion of all degree requirements. Continuous enrollment is defined as registration during each semester (Fall, Spring) of the academic year until the degree is attained or until status as a degree-seeking graduate student is terminated through an official University withdrawal.

Requirements for registration in the summer remain unchanged. Students will register in the summer only when they elect courses, take required examinations, or defend their theses/dissertations.

With continuous enrollment, graduate students will have “active” status until the degree is conferred, and have the option of continuous access to University services and resources — such as financial aid and information resources — throughout their graduate careers.

Why is Change Needed?

Strong connections make strong programs
Our current policy creates confusion and misinformation among students. Relinquishing their formal student status can disadvantage students by eliminating their eligibility for financial aid and student campus services. More importantly, an unregistered status may weaken the strong connections between students and their program and faculty members.

Strong connections between students and their faculty mentors, their graduate programs, and their fellow students are essential components of a high-quality educational experience that contribute positively to students' progress and success. Continuous advising, regular communication, and sustained attention from program and faculty advisors help keep students progressing toward their academic goals.

Clarify current policies and practices
Currently there is a great deal of misinformation among faculty and students regarding today's continuous enrollment policy. The consequences of decisions are not often understood or communicated before a student lapses enrollment. These issues create problems for our faculty and staff, but more critically for our graduate students.

Below are some examples of comments received in recent months which would be resolved by implementing the revised CEP:

“Why do I need to register when my roommate is told she does not?”

“Why doesn't my Library access work anymore?”

“We work with our students to ensure they are appropriately registered, but not everyone else does.”

“Why did I get notice of my student loans coming due?”

“I was not allowed to return to the US because my visa status showed a lapse in enrollment; how can I stop this from happening again?”

“I'm not looking forward to conducting my research away from campus without any access to student services from my program.”

Institutional policy should support the work of graduate students by helping to create a supportive environment
UNC Chapel Hill is always working to align its policies with the best practices in graduate education. The revised CEP contributes to this effort. We are one of a handful of campuses without such a policy, especially among our AAU peers. It will keep students actively enrolled during the periods when they are making academic progress, and provide ongoing access to University resources throughout their student careers. The policy will also provide for official leaves of absence when life events or medical situations interrupt a student's progress for a period of time.

University services should recognize the full-time, continuous nature of graduate education
Providing services is a difficult proposition in our current environment, where student status is often ambiguous. Graduate students are expected to make their degree studies the primary focus of their efforts from matriculation through degree completion. They are well supported by the institution when University policy aligns with that expectation so that services and resources are continually available to them while they are pursuing their graduate degrees.

Institutional policy should support the work of faculty members and graduate programs by allowing them to focus on the academic progress of their students
The revised CEP facilitates the ability of faculty members and graduate programs to follow the status and progress of their students. As students pursue their research after candidacy, often in off campus locations, the policy will provide structure and deadlines for keeping track of progress.

It will also reduce administrative work in the graduate programs and offices on campus by eliminating procedures that exist now solely to provide student-related services for students who are not formally registered or who lapse enrollment and need to be reactivated.

Reducing attrition to ensure more students complete their degrees
Carolina can do better to retain more of our graduate students and foster a culture of making continuous progress toward degree completion. Non-completion rates represent students every year in whom we invest faculty time, University resources, and other support; and who commit years of their lives to the pursuit of a goal they do not achieve. As we strive to recruit the best students in a highly competitive admissions process, a commitment to high completion rates can give us a recruiting advantage.

Addressing current patterns of student-related issues
Faculty and students have provided feedback to the Graduate School on the quality of the student experience while disengaged from their programs under today's continuous enrollment policy. Progress can be disjointed and quality of work will often suffer. Many students struggle to complete and require individualized reapplication plans as a last resort. The revised CEP's goal is to eliminate these types of situations.

The revised CEP will also address issues related to faculty and program uncertainty on enrollment levels when students are not registered. Programs do not always know if a student intends to return and whether their “spot should be held” in the program. The CEP would address these issues by proactively fostering continuous communication on all levels between students and their programs.

Graduate education has changed
Graduate programs need more flexibility in order to respond to emerging changes in disciplines, funding, publishing, and the balance between coursework and research or other independent scholarship. Travel and technology have led to increasing geographic dispersion of faculty and student scholars and will only increase in the future. More programs will seek to incorporate global and intercultural experiences. A consistent model that allows flexibility while maintaining strong connections to Carolina will help programs offer more diverse options for student study. The revised CEP is being drafted with these goals in mind.

Leaves of Absence

The proposed CEP will provide flexibility for students who need to take periods of leave and makes a clear statement about expectations upon return. A Leave of Absence (LOA) provides a mechanism for students to be temporarily exempt from the CEP for certain circumstances.

Most continuous registration policies we researched do not have many options for leaves of absence. However, Carolina has a long-standing culture of supporting our students, and the groups working on developing the revised CEP felt it important to maintain a LOA option.

The Parental Leave Policy addresses parental leave situations separately from any changes to the LOA policy.

Research and Fieldwork Away from Chapel Hill

Some students have expressed concern that the new policy will make it difficult or impossible to study or conduct research in a remote location. Other students have expressed concern that this new policy would require them to be residents in Chapel Hill. Neither is the case.

Many students pursue research and study activities in other countries or in other areas of North Carolina or the United States as part of their degree work. These activities are essential for those students and their courses of study. This work might be field research, language study, ethnographic data collection, laboratory exchanges, use of library or archival collections at other institutions, collaboration with scholars in other countries, or a host of other circumstances. These are necessary components and strengths of many of our graduate programs.

The proposed CEP does not affect students' ability to engage in research or study in a location away from campus. The change from current practice is that students would be registered regardless of their location. The intent of the revised CEP will be to provide a mechanism that better suits the needs of students who are meeting degree requirements away from campus.

Registration status confirms students' eligibility for appropriate access to University services and resources, many of which will remain fully available to students off campus due to advances in technology. Registration also fosters regular communication between students and their programs and faculty mentors. This benefit can be especially valuable for students who must live somewhere other than Chapel Hill for a period of time.


Students who do not register in a fall or spring semester will be presumed to have ceased active study, and will be dismissed from their graduate programs. This step will not occur until multiple attempts have been made at communicating with the impacted students following a prescribed timeline. Both the Graduate School and the students' academic programs will communicate with students about deadlines and processes for remaining in compliance with the CEP.

The revised CEP will include the process by which students who do not enroll can be readmitted to their graduate programs if they later decide to return to active study.

The goal is to foster communication lines between students and their faculty and programs early in the process to develop action plans for leaves of absence or to ensure awareness of the need to be enrolled. This conversation should occur as soon as issues are encountered instead of waiting until enrollment has lapsed.


There is not currently a defined timetable for approving the revised CEP. The Dean and the Administrative Board of the Graduate School continue conversations and planning on the process for researching and developing a revised CEP to ensure equitable implementation while also meeting the needs of all graduate students and faculty.

Please see this announcement for additional implementation information.