Editorial: Automatic awarding of degrees a potential win for goal of student success

At the Nov. 28 Academic Senate meeting, the senate debated a change that would allow students to automatically receive degrees they qualify for.
The change is controversial, as determining who qualifies for degrees would entail school officials accessing student records that are, by law, confidential. Another issue present is that it may affect the academic status of some students who don’t want certain degrees.
All these issues are valid. Yet, if a student earns a degree, they should be awarded that degree with no repercussions.
Doing the work to get a degree and not receiving that degree is equivalent of working at a job and not receiving a paycheck.
According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), students past the age of 18 are given exclusive rights to their educational records. Exemptions are allowed if it is deemed that “legitimate educational interest” exists in the records. These exemptions are limited, but it would seem to be of legitimate concern to award students with the degrees they have earned.
Secondarily, it seems wrong-headed to punish the success of students who have done the work to receive a degree but for a variety of reasons.
While it has been stated that financial aid benefits would not be affected by students receiving degrees, there is speculation that special employment students, such as California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) and Educational Opportunity Program students (EOPS) students, could have their academic status affected negatively.
Punishing success by students is the wrong path for education and any roadblock in the path of successful students should be eliminated. Students should not be deterred from receiving degrees by the looming threat of losing their benefits.
There are options to implement this change successfully. An “opt-out” option has been considered, which would allow students to withdraw themselves from consideration of the automatic receiving of a degree.
While this option is well meaning, it does not address the larger issue of potentially reducing benefits to students who achieve their degrees.
Another, more logical, idea would be to utilize the potential of the Degree Works software discussed in this issue of the Express. Students who are close to degrees or qualify for them outright could have their records flagged at which point the student can be contacted to either accept or deny their degree.
While Degree Works has yet to be implemented, it is an exciting tool that could aid many students in achieving their goals.
Whatever path is chosen, it should present the clearest possible avenue to rewarding the hard work and dedication of students.
Whatever means are employed to accomplish this goal are not only desirable but also necessary.

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