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Questions linger about second degree policy

Peter Wojtechko Jr. graduated from Saint Vincent College in 2015. He majored in English and computer science, and completed more credits than required for graduation. He expected to receive a degree in each field.

However, he learned in the fall of his senior year that he could receive only one.

“I asked the office of the registrar if I should fill out two forms, one for each degree. It was then explained to me that I would only receive one. I could choose either a BA in English or BS in computer science, whatever my ‘first’ major was, and the ‘second’ major would be included in the same degree,” Wojtechko said.

Other students have found themselves in similar situations, and some current students were surprised to hear about the policy.

Phil Tran, a transfer freshman majoring in philosophy and theology, was unaware of the policy.

“I had expected to receive two degrees upon enrolling and being accepted as a double major student. I was not aware of this policy until a classmate told me, and it would seem like most double majors are not aware either,” Tran said.

The policy is explained in the academic bulletin, but not all students notice the two relevant paragraphs before enrolling.

“I am sure there are good reasons for issuing just one degree upon completion of undergraduate studies, especially since both majors are listed on transcripts, but it would surely be beneficial for all students to have this policy explained to them clearly as they decide upon majors and courses,” Tran said.

Saint Vincent’s Educational Policies Committee (EPC) discussed the issue in 2016.

Dr. Philip Kanfush, associate professor of education and chair of the EPC, explained the committee’s discussion.

“Basically, what happened is the EPC discussed it, took it to the larger faculty for discussion, the larger faculty had some discussion on the matter, there were some concerns expressed. I had asked, at the faculty meeting, that individual faculty members contact either myself or Dr. Smetanka to give us their concerns, either in favor or opposed. Dr. Smetanka received no responses. I received one, several weeks after the discussion happened,” Kanfush said.

Due to the lack of interest in changing the policy, no action was taken, though the wording in the bulletin was clarified.

There were various reasons for this lack of interest. But the main issue was whether a major ought to be considered identical to a degree. Since Saint Vincent’s core curriculum is so large, most double majors have a great many courses that count toward both degrees, especially if both majors are in related fields. “You’re talking about a lot of double-counting. And I think that’s where faculty members were not quite sure about this,” Kanfush said.

Dr. John Smetanka, vice president of Academic Affairs, elaborated.

“At Saint Vincent you do the core curriculum. . . It’s almost half of all the credits you take. So if you’re double major... there’s a lot of double counting. It isn’t fair to say that you’re getting two diplomas,” Smetanka said.

This procedure is standard practice across the academic world. A large institution without many general education requirements, or one that is subdivided into multiple colleges, may offer two degrees to students who complete a B.A. and B.S. in unrelated fields, Smetanka explained. But most smaller colleges don’t do so because they are in a position similar to Saint Vincent. On the other hand, it’s much easier to double major at Saint Vincent because it is possible to do so without completing two full, separate degree programs.

Yet the question of cases such as Wojtechko’s remains, when a student has in fact majored in two separate areas and completed more than the required number of credits — even if some of those credits are still counted toward both majors.

Wojtechko himself managed to receive two degrees for his extensive amount of work. Older versions of the academic bulletin technically allowed students to re-enroll to complete a second degree. Since Wojtechko already had the required additional credits, he was able to re-enroll and receive a second degree without taking any extra courses. He found, in his research, that other colleges similar to Saint Vincent offer comparable options for students like him.

But that was never the intent of the bulletin, Smetanka explained, and the new language precludes that possibility. A student must complete at least 30 credits toward a second major after re-enrolling.

The issue may be settled for the average double major. But Smetanka noted that the faculty is open to listening to students like Wojtechko.

“It is the students who have a phenomenal number of credits, and who have done fabulous work… So you really want listen to them,” Smetanka said. “It was decided to keep it the way it is for now, but that doesn’t say that we don’t revisit it in the future.”

Photo SVC Flickr

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