Common Terms in Higher Education

Academic Standing

A student’s academic standing is determined by the Grade Point Average (or Quality Point Average) earned each semester in relation to their cumulative attempted Quality Hours. Students who do not meet the minimum GPA requires will see a decline in their academic standing.


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Advanced Placement (AP) test

Advanced placement tests are examinations offered by the College Board to high school students who have completed the AP curricula in order to demonstrate college- level knowledge in subject areas. Students must receive a minimum score, determined by the institution of their choice, in order to receive college level credit for the AP course.


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Articulation Agreement

This is an agreement between higher education institutions, especially community colleges, that outlines which credits are transferable and how credits will transfer.


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Audit

To audit a class, students are enrolled in the course but do not receive academic credit and are not required to complete assignments or tests. Students are still required to register for the class (an Audit Permit form is required) and may be required to pay full tuition and/or a fee for an audited class. An audited course will appear on the academic transcript with a grade of “AU” which is not calculated in the GPA.


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Board of Trustees

The policy making and governing body of a college.


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Bursar

The person or office who manages the finances at a college. Students pay the bursar for room, board, tuition and fees.


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Classification

Classification refers to an undergraduate student’s rank based on the number of earned credit hours. One example: freshman (0 – 29.99 credits), sophomore (30 – 59.99 credits), junior (60 – 89.99 credits) or senior (90 credits or higher).


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College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test

These examinations allow students to demonstrate competencies in required coursework instead of taking classes. Students who earn the required minimum grade or higher on a CLEP exam receive a grade of “S” for the equivalent course which they are no longer required to enroll in.


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Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System (COMPASS) test

These exams are part of a comprehensive software package developed by ACT to help postsecondary institutions determine readiness for college-level courses and to place students into appropriate course levels for Writing, Reading and Math. Students take the test if they wish to challenge their ACT placement in a course or do not have Math/English courses to measure readiness.


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Concentration

A concentration is an area of emphasis within a major. Concentrations do not appear on diplomas, but are printed on the academic transcripts.


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Co-requisite

Co-requisite courses are two classes that must be registered for and taken during the same semester, i.e., PHYS 2110 and PHYS 2111 lab must be completed in the same term.


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Credit

How schools measure a student’s progress towards a degree or certificate. Credit hours are assigned to a course based on how often the class meets. Credits can also just be called hours.


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Credit by Examination

Students earn college credit for demonstrating competencies through the testing such as ACT/SAT scores, AP exams, CLEP test and/or International Baccalaureate courses. Each college or university will have their own minimum score requirements for awarding college credit.


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Dual Enrollment

College-level courses that students complete for college credit while still enrolled in high school. These courses appear on the academic transcript as credit earned from the higher education institution offering the dual enrollment and not from the high school.


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Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

A federal policy that prevents any administrative department and all university personnel from discussing a student’s confidential information (academic, financial or otherwise) without first receiving permission from that student.


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Full-Time

A student who carries at least a minimum number of credits in a term. On a semester calendar, full-time undergraduate enrollment is often considered 12 credit hours during the Fall and Spring semesters. The number of credits necessary for a student to be full time varies by institution. General Education Requirements (aka Gen Ed): The general education curriculum is included in all 4 year degree programs and many associates degree programs to provide a common intellectual foundation within communications, math, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.


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Grade Point Average (aka GPA or Quality Point Average or QPA)

An average academic score based on a 4-point scale of points earned by the letter grade received (A=4; B=3; C=2; D=1) and the total number of credit hours attempted.


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Independent Study

Studying a subject for credit without traditional classroom instruction.


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Interdisciplinary

Programs or courses that span two or more academic areas.


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Major

A focused area of study. Students have specialized knowledge of their major topic and earn a degree in that area if they are earning an associates or bachelors degree.


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Matriculate

To register or enroll in college.


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Minor

A declared secondary course of study. Requires fewer classes than a major. While students pursuing an associates or bachelors degree are required to declare a major, declaring a minor is optional.


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Orientation

Programs that help new students become familiar with a school before classes begin. Prerequisite: A prerequisite course is a class that must be completed and passed before enrolling in other courses, i.e., ENGL 1010 must be completed before registering for ENGL 1020.


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Provost

A college’s chief academic officer.


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Quality Point Average (QPA)

See definition under “Grade Point Average”.


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R

R on a college schedule typically means that a class is taking place on a Thursday. Monday, M; Tuesday, T; Wednesday, W; Thursday, R: Friday, F.


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Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

This is a requirement used by Financial Aid to determine that students are making reasonable academic progress each semester towards completing a degree program. The criteria include GPA, pace (which outlines a minimum completion percentage of hours attempted) and limits to the maximum time frame for enrollment. Each college may have their own SAP criteria.


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Section Number

A class or course section number is used to distinguish the same class taught on different days, times, locations and/or instructors which provides more opportunities to take the same class. For example, ENGL 1010 section 001 is offered on MWF at 9 am and ENGL 1010 section 005 is offered on TR at 1:30 pm. This number can also delineate various course delivery methods such as iLearn, RODP, or off-campus locations.


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Semester

Calendar system used by some schools. Often, the school year is divided into two terms, each lasting approximately 16 weeks.


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Support Services

Services on a college campus designed to help students. Often colleges have support services in various areas including: academics, health, social, financial aid and career services.


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Tennessee Transfer Pathways (aka TTP)

Degree and course information designed to help community college students plan for transferring to a Tennessee public university to complete their baccalaureate degree. The TTPs also constitute an agreement between community colleges and universities confirming that community college courses meet major preparation requirements at four-year institutions. More information.


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Transfer Student

Any student who switches colleges.


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Trimester

A calendar system used by some colleges that divides the school into three 10-12 week terms.


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College and Earning Potential

Certificate

A certificate demonstrates that a student has earned knowledge in a very specific area of study often focused on a vocational or professional subject. Typically does not involve taking general education courses and usually can be completed in days, weeks, or months, rather than years. The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and Tennessee’s community colleges both offer a number of certificate programs. In Tennessee’s public colleges, certificates are awarded to students who successfully demonstrate competencies for a proficiency level in occupational programs less than one year in length.


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Diploma

A diploma is awarded to students who complete an academic program, typically a program that is longer than a certificate program. At the TCATs, a diploma is awarded to a student who successfully completes an occupational program, which is at least one year in length.


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Associate’s Degree

An associate degree is typically a two-year degree program requiring students to earn approximately 60 hours of college credit; often awarded through community and technical or junior colleges. Many public and private four-year universities in Tennessee also offer associate degrees. At Tennessee’s community colleges, different types of associate degrees are offered, such as an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.), which is considered a degree for going directly into a career, an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.), which can be used to either go into a career or can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree at a Tennessee public university.


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Bachelor’s Degree

Traditionally a four-year degree program requiring students to earn approximately 120 hours of college credit; also known as a baccalaureate or undergraduate degree. Many of Tennessee’s public universities and many private colleges in Tennessee offer bachelor’s degrees. For students who earn an associate degree, they can often apply those credits toward a bachelor’s degree to earn that bachelor’s degree in as little as two years after earning their associate degree.


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Graduate Degree

Graduate degrees are advanced degrees pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree. Examples are a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Students generally can earn a master’s degree after two years of study. A doctoral degree (for example, a Ph.D.) requires four or more years of study.


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Professional Degree

Students earn professional degrees to become licensed to work in professions like medicine or law. The M.D. degree is an example. Professional programs generally require a college degree before you start them and then at least three years of study to complete.


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Types of Colleges

Public Career and Technical Schools

Career and technical schools offer training to help you develop skills that are in-demand in the workforce. In Tennessee, these are the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs), which are funded, in part, by money from the State of Tennessee. Students often can complete these programs within four months to two years. Graduates of these programs can receive either a certificate that documents their knowledge or skills in a particular area or they can receive a diploma from the institution. The TCATs offer both full-time day enrollment or evening enrollment and the TCATs offer 60 occupational programs statewide.


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Public Two-Year Colleges

Tennessee’s public two-year colleges are known as Tennessee’s community colleges. These colleges offer associate degree programs, which usually take two years to complete. Many also offer certificate programs. Like the TCATs, the community colleges are funded partly by the State of Tennessee, so tuition and fees are often very competitive. There are 13 community colleges across the state that with over 480 academic programs. You can also participate in the Tennessee Transfer Pathways programs, which will allow you to transfer the credits from your associate degree to a public four-year college and have those credits count toward a bachelor’s degree.


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Public Four-Year Colleges

Like public two-year colleges, public four-year colleges are funded, in part, by the State of Tennessee. These colleges offer bachelor’s degree programs, which usually take four years to complete, although some offer two-year associate degree programs, too. Many also offer graduate programs, such as master’s degree programs and doctoral degree programs. Because they receive government funds, tuition and fees usually are lower at public colleges and universities.


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For Profit Schools

For-profit colleges and universities are businesses. They are managed primarily by shareholders and owners. For-profit colleges may offer programs in convenient time frames or formats, but their tuition and fees are sometimes higher. As with any institution, students will want to check and ensure that the credits they’ve earned at the institution will be recognized by other colleges if they choose to transfer to another institution.


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Non-Profit Private Colleges and Universities

Non-profit colleges and universities are funded, in part,by private donations. These colleges and universities are managed primarily by boards of governors made up of community members. There are many types of non-profit colleges and universities offering a wide variety of degrees and programs, including two-year and four-year degrees. Although tuition and fees are sometimes higher at non-profit colleges and universities, many are able to offer large scholarships through funds provided by their donors.


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Liberal Arts Colleges

These colleges offer a broad base of courses in the liberal arts, which includes areas such as literature, history, languages, mathematics and life sciences. Most are private and offer four-year programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree. These colleges can prepare you for a variety of careers or for graduate study.


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