Friday, October 21, 2016

On-Line Catalog

I got an email from a colleague today, asking about one of the requirements for an interdisciplinary program (for which I chair a committee, so it made sense).  I looked at my print out of the requirements, and then I looked at last year's catalog.

And then I answered with some confidence, both that this year's catalog and last year's catalog agreed about the requirement.

And then I got to thinking: we've gone from printed catalogs to printed and on-line catalogs, and now to only an on-line catalog.  I have a partial shelf of old catalogs, which have been useful at times because here, at least, catalogs work as a sort of contract.  Students enter under a "catalog year" and have to fulfill the requirements outlined in the catalog for their catalog year.  If we changed the requirements, they don't have to do new requirements, even if they changed their major after a new catalog.  (Students always had an option to move to a newer catalog year, which makes more sense lately because we've been reducing requirements in a lot of ways in an effort to raise our four and six year graduation rates.)

So, as an advisor, it was helpful to keep several years of printed catalogs on hand to be able to check requirement changes and such. 

So how are we going to figure out if, say, a student comes in under the 2016-17 catalog, and then we change a major requirement in 2017 at some point.  We won't have back catalogs to check (nor will students), and requirements can now change at any time during the year (rather than just once a year when the catalog went to print).  That gives the university lots of flexibility, but seems like it has potential to cause advising nightmares.

The nightmares will probably be minimized if we keep going on our current trajectory or reducing requirements, of course, since it will always be "advantageous" for a student to move to a new catalog.

Has anyone out there been using only on-line catalogs for a while now?  (It makes a lot of sense in many ways, of course.)  How does your school track changes in programs so they're visible to students, faculty, and anyone else?


  1. richard4:01 PM

    In our case, the university archives old online catalogs in searchable PDF format, and (for once) they're clearly marked as archived (not live) on the website. Don't know the archiving process, since the live catalog is accessed through PeopleSoft crap, but that's how the access works.

  2. Our registrar has old versions archived on the website. They have earlier ones pdf'd in one place, and then the "catalog" area has the ones since we went to an all online catalog. They are clearly labeled by year.

  3. Thanks! That totally makes sense.

    Do changes to catalog only happen once a year, then?

    1. Yes. So students enter the major in a catalog year, and if they change the major requirements, students can opt in, but they don't have to. It's just like the paper catalog in that way.

  4. Our university also archives its old catalogues:

    Catalogue changes occur only once a year. I think they do minor corrections silently, e.g. correcting typos or obvious errors, but actual changes in requirements wait until the next catalogue for precisely the reason that you mention: students who enter in a given catalogue year will be bound by its requirements in most cases.