Finish in 4 initiative should speed path to graduation


Max Van Wie

Sara Kinerson


Johnson State College is working to establish a new initiative, which will roll out in the fall with a few participating majors. The initiative would provide incoming students with new opportunities and a guarantee that their college career is complete within four years, as long as they follow the course schedule outlined in their contract.

“We are still in the planning phases, so we don’t have everything figured out yet,” said Sara Kinerson, director of advising. “But it would be a contract that outlines the student responsibility and JSC’s responsibility. In essence, if the student does what we’ve laid out for them to do, then they’ll finish in four years.So, they’ll know, from the first semester they are here, what classes they’ll be taking and when. “

The plan leaves room for electives that are not considered part of the major.

According to Kinerson, she proposed the Finish-in-4 initiative to President Barbara Murphy about 1.5 years ago, and began working on it with Dean of Academic Affairs Dan Regan in the last year. There will be flexibility in some of the semesters, but courses that can only be taken in the outlined semester will be marked so that students don’t drop a course that they won’t have another chance to take. Some majors will be more difficult than others to coordinate, due to low enrollment numbers that make it difficult for classes to run, or the number of credits that are required.

“Many, but not all, majors will fit a four-year time span. We hope and expect that most of our majors will be possible to complete in four years,” said Regan. “To that end, before we even discussed this Finish-in-4 program with academic department chairs and others, Sara was charged with a research project of sorts. She had to select 11 or 12 majors from Johnson State College and imagine that she was a student that entered in fall of 2009. So, the question is, in those dozen majors, could she finish by Spring of 2014. I think she discovered that for 11 out of the 12 the answer was yes, and the twelfth only needed a small modification.”

General Education classes will also be included in the plan, and they can more easily be moved to a different semester than core classes. “So, if we put an aesthetic perspectives gen. ed. in the fall semester,” says Kinerson, “and the student ends up taking a global perspectives, that’s fine, they can just swap them out. Advisors will be working with them each semester to keep track of any changes they’re making.”

Kinerson and Regan are trying to engage as many majors as possible, and also working to include students who are coming in as undeclared majors. According to Kinerson, it makes it more difficult to plan out four years for someone who isn’t following a set curriculum, and Finish-in-4 can’t be guaranteed until those students decide on a major, but if they get the general education courses out of the way while they are deciding, credits won’t be squandered. Then, it may not work if the student waits until the second year and chooses a major that has a rigorous and calculated 4-year plan.

There will be no penalty for students who don’t follow the outlines of the contract signed when they entered JSC, and it is still possible to graduate in four years, but the contact will be null and Johnson State won’t have a responsibility in making sure that student finishes in time.

As part of the contract, students must meet with their advisor every semester, and they must discuss any changes they want to make to a semester plan, and gain approval for every class that they want to drop. If a student isn’t going to graduate in four years because of an issue on Johnson’s end of the bargain, advisors will then work with their students to find suitable substitutions to requirements. But if they won’t graduate due to a lack of responsibility on their end, the deal is off, and the advisor isn’t obligated to make substitutions for requirements.

Currently, the program can only be offered to campus-based undergraduate students, but Regan says there could be analogs for EDP and transfer students in the future, such as Finish-in-3 or 2, since they’ll be coming in with about 60 credits, but that may be difficult as the classes they have taken may not match up with the major they want to study under.

Similarly, if students change majors half-way through, they’ll have to meet with their advisor to discuss whether it will still be possible to finish in four years. Switching majors will make it difficult to come up with a plan to remain on the Finish-in-4 path, but depending on whether there are a large number of crossover classes, it may still be possible.

“I want students to graduate in four years who want to graduate in four years,” says Kenerson. “I want people to know that it’s possible. This year I had a student come into my office and say how nobody can graduate from Johnson in four years. I hear that and know that it’s not true. It’s their truth, but Johnson State doesn’t see it that way. So, I want to make it clear, so that it’s no question. Then it will be the student’s and Johnson’s responsibility to get there.”