The majority of college students graduate with more credits than required for their degree or program, unnecessarily costing them both time and money. This is because most course catalogs are difficult to understand. Therefore, one of the most important things institutions can do for their students is to provide them with a clear road map listing all courses required to earn the degree term by term, a central strategy of Complete College America. An essential feature of this road map is the identification of critical or Milestone courses. These are courses that MUST be successfully completed in the term indicated in order to graduate on time, either in two or four years. These courses are either important prerequisites or courses in the major. They provide guideposts for the student to assess their progress.

They can be even more informative for the student and the instructor if the department looks at a frequency distribution of the grades in the course and the probability of successfully completing the next course in the program or graduating in that major. For example, a student who earns a “C” in Accounting I, may have only a 40 percent chance of graduating with a degree in accounting while a student who earns an “A” may have an 88 percent chance of graduating with a degree in accounting. These courses allow the student to assess their strength in that field and decide if this is a good major for them. The faculty member can announce early that (1) this is a critical course for this major and the material is fundamental to future courses and (2) if you, as a student, are struggling early, please come and see me immediately so that we can arrange tutoring or supplemental instruction.

Further, many students will take a Milestone course several times hoping to eventually pass it. This circumstance should result in the faculty setting a limit on repeats of a Milestone course.  The faculty can set the number of repeats based on quantitative data from their own campus. For example, after the second try and not passing Accounting I, the student has almost no chance of completing the major.  Faculty have an obligation to set the repeat limit and not allow the student to waste money and time pursuing a degree that will never be attained. It is far better to work with the student to find an appropriate degree area.

There are other advantages to Milestone courses as well. The department knows which courses are needed and how many seats are needed in each course. The faculty can build their teaching schedule around these important courses and the institution can allocate classrooms efficiently.

To learn more about creating academic maps that increase student success, watch this video on Degree Mapping with Larry Abele.