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System to declare degree candidacy unfairly slams students with penalty

By Andrew Dushkes

May 24, 2010 8:52 pm

We have always been taught that hard work will be rewarded, but what happens when the opposite is true? In the case of the degree expected term, hard work results in a $20 fee. Under its current structure, the degree expected term functions as nothing more than a punishment for those who sought an advantage in the college application process.

Students must declare their candidacy for a degree before reaching 160 units. Not only that, but they can only do so if they are four quarters or less away from graduating. Failure to comply with these rules results in a $20 late candidacy fee.

The decision to set the maximum at 160 units was made because that is when students are within a year of reaching the 180 units needed to graduate, said Randy Cirilo, assistant registrar for degrees and grading.

These rules were likely made when it was typical for all coursework to be completed at UCLA, but students today enter college with units from a plethora of sources. Community college credit and Advanced Placement tests are now as commonplace on an application as SAT scores. While these units do not count toward the overall unit maximum, they do count toward the declaration maximum.

“We can’t easily factor those out, so the determination was made to look at total completed units,” said Cirilo.

This means that some students surpass 160 units before they are within one academic year of graduating, which is the exact situation I found myself in. I entered UCLA with 56 units, so for me the $20 charge was unavoidable under the current guidelines.

The university offers little recourse to those faced with such a predicament. The only option is to have the fee waived, said Cirilo. I did indeed request a waiver, which was ultimately denied.

While it is against the registrar’s rules, students in danger of passing the unit maximum can declare more than four quarters before graduating.

The further removed one is from graduation, however, the harder it is to predict when it will actually occur.

Melody Vo, a third-year mechanical engineering student, was advised by a counselor to declare her candidacy early, only to realize she guessed wrong. “Fall quarter of junior year is too early. Some people don’t even have their major yet,” said Vo.

There are a few possible solutions to bridge the divide between bureaucratic process and actual function.

First would be to do away with the unit maximum altogether. Students could declare at any time and would only be assessed a fee if they declare less than one year before graduating.

Another would be to raise the unit maximum to the 180 necessary to graduate. A $20 fee would only be charged to those who declare after 180 units or declare the same quarter that they plan to graduate.

A third solution would be to keep the current rules but separate out units taken prior to UCLA. This would restore the relevance of the 160-unit limit by leveling the playing field for all students regardless of their high school background.

Although Cirilo dismissed this possibility, citing the difficulty involved, his response must be viewed with skepticism. The degree progress report separates units into those taken at UCLA and those originating elsewhere, so this information should be readily available to the registrar’s office.

Whatever the university decides to do, the answer cannot be maintaining the status quo. The candidacy process is broken and outdated and must be upgraded to match today’s reality. Students deserve a fair system that does not undercut the value of preparing for admission to UCLA.

E-mail Dushkes at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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