The single greatest motivation for revising the Continuous Enrollment Policy (CEP) at UNC-Chapel Hill is its benefits for graduate students. Research has shown that students who are continuously enrolled have higher rates of degree completion, complete their degrees faster, and remain more actively engaged in their graduate programs.
Substantial benefits for students, faculty, and graduate programs arise from continuous enrollment. A continuous enrollment policy is standard at most research universities. The primary benefits of a CEP include:
- Providing appropriate and continued access to University services and resources for students throughout their graduate studies
- Confirming official student status and University affiliation for students, which carries with it the entitlement to faculty and program services, access to other University services and resources, and recognition by external entities
- Encouraging a campus culture of making continuous progress toward graduate degrees in all graduate programs
- Satisfying rules for federal financial aid eligibility, loan deferrals, and access to financial aid resources
- Increasing graduate degree completions and reducing attrition
- Enhancing continuous communication and quality interaction between graduate students and faculty advisors, which prioritizes student needs and their progress towards degree completion
- Ensuring faculty receive proper credit and are recognized for their mentoring and advising responsibilities
- Improving capabilities for graduate programs and faculty members to monitor progress and remain in touch with all students in their programs, even as student careers become more diverse and global
- Maintaining greater understanding and comprehensive information about the graduate student population to support decision-making and policy development
- Creating consistency between the University's registration requirements and the governmental regulations pertaining to international students
- Ensuring equity of treatment between international and domestic graduate student populations
A supportive environment for graduate education
At Chapel Hill, our goal is always to foster a supportive environment that makes it possible for students to pursue research and scholarship in a variety of ways, based on what is best for them and their program of study.Our policies and practice should support students' ability to undertake original, innovative, and interdisciplinary research. Graduate programs need to be able to structure degree work and student training in the way that best suits the field and discipline.
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 to keep graduate degree progress on track.
As a campus, we must foster the relationships between students and their faculty advisors and mentors. We must encourage regular and meaningful communication between programs and their students, as well as between faculty advisors and students. Students who enter our graduate programs should feel they are members of an academic community where there is a mutual commitment to successful completion of students' graduate training and preparation for their career goals.
We believe that an effective continuous enrollment policy for graduate students fosters practices that contribute to the achievement of a supportive environment for programs, faculty, and students. The proposed CEP is one important component of the continuing improvement of our graduate offerings at Carolina.
University services and resources
One of the leading motivators for adoption of a revised CEP is its benefits for graduate students. The University must provide appropriate access to University services and resources for students, including stipend support, financial aid eligibility, and campus services. The University's ability to provide access to student services and financial aid is made possible only through official registration.
Official student status and University affiliation
Enrolled graduate students are eligible to use campus resources including faculty time, research services, the University Library, among others to support their progress. Official student status is also necessary for externally imposed requirements including financial aid eligibility, loan payment and interest deferrals, and visa compliance. Having confirmed student status also enables opportunities for research and funding, locally and abroad.
Cultural changes for a supportive environment and continuous communication
Under the current continuous registration policy, there are graduate students who are not enrolled. These individuals include students who are connected to their programs and actively working with their faculty mentors but are not receiving the benefits of University resources. It also includes students who are not making progress towards their degree or keeping up with the advances in their disciplines yet who ultimately want to complete. Neither situation is desirable or beneficial for our campus environment.
When students do not register, there is no structure that helps keep them connected to their programs. There is no trigger for the program or faculty members to contact the students and check on their progress. There is no official record of student progress, whether on the students transcripts or for faculty advising statistics. Continuous enrollment provides institutional support for the ongoing communications between students and their programs and faculty advisors. It promotes and supports programs' knowledge of where students are in their academic career track and what resources they need to continue successfully.
Full and comprehensive information
Decision-making and policy development at any level within the University are improved when supporting information is complete, comprehensive, and an accurate reflection of the University's existing practices and populations. When graduate students are enrolled, they are reflected in the University's data that support decision-making and are reported to external agencies.
Academic administrators in graduate programs, schools and colleges, and central administration will be supported by better data and more complete analyses as they seek to improve graduate education opportunities and funding availability for graduate students.
Financial aid eligibility
Graduate students lose their financial aid eligibility if they lapse enrollment. Many students are not aware of this fact until they receive notice that they cannot obtain a student loan or their past loans are coming due. A priority for the revised CEP is to ensure enrolled graduate students maintain full-time status for federal financial aid eligibility and loan deferrals.
Consistent treatment of students
Current registration practices often result in students from various programs being treated differently across campus. Such inequities undermine the mission of the University to provide equal opportunities and scholarship for all graduate students as they work toward completing their intended degrees. Misinformation among students and faculty, especially regarding downstream consequences for lapsing enrollment, must be clarified.
International students on any campus must meet federal regulations regarding continuous registration and full-time student status. Inequities among domestic and international students do not create a supportive environment for graduate students. A priority for the revised CEP is to treat students across all programs the same and ensure appropriate access to services and benefits equitably.
Chapel Hill graduate programs admit intelligent, qualified students who are fully capable of succeeding in graduate study.Yet many of the students who enter our programs never complete a degree. We believe that students, the University, and the world would be well-served if more of our entering students left Carolina with their chosen degree in hand. The revised CEP will serve as an additional tool to support our graduate programs and their training of scholars as we work to retain the best and the brightest students.