University Committees, Degrees, and Branding

As a faculty member, I have the privilege to sit on a number of department and college committees. One of the more interesting committees I sit on is the undergraduate programs committee for our college. In one of the meetings, the topic of residency and degrees came up. In terms of this discussion, residency means how many credits were earned at a specific institution. The issue before the committee is, how many credits should a student have to earn from a particular institution before they earn a degree from that institution. Is it 30 credits? 60 credits? Does it even matter? There was a lively discussion about this, and I’m not sure how the decision will go, but here are my thoughts on it.

First, it is a complex issue. One one hand, we want to encourage students from other institutions to come to our university and take our courses, and establishing higher residency requirements may limit the number of students who transfer to, and eventually graduate from our institution. On the other hand, the residency requirement acts as a form of ‘quality control’. By having some minimum requirement, we are able to gather more information about the quality of the student before they walk away with a degree with our university’s name on it. At its heart, I see this as a branding issue, and as a quality control issue. To illustrate my concern, I used a manufacturing example in the meeting. Would Company A feel comfortable branding a product where 75% of the process was conducted at Company B? What if it was 50%? While this is not a perfect analogy (as these companies have established strict guidelines as to what has to happen to satisfy the terms of the contract) the issue is the same. Without any way to monitor quality at the first institution (where a bulk of the education takes place), the risk falls entirely on the company with the brand. In that case, I think gathering more information (in terms of credits) is probably the sound strategy, but maybe I am missing something.

If you have any thoughts about this, I would be happy to hear them.