Juggling our three projects

As discussed in class April 5, we’re going to be:

  • Expanding our profile story (next draft due April 12) to include multiple sources and more about the personality and life in general of the subject being profiled.
  • Coming up (also by April 12) with a proposal for our final project.
  • Continuing work on getting expert and average-student views on our  investigative story, exploring the anomaly we found in Campus Profile data that numbers of seniors vs. freshmen, sophomores and juniors has been increasing in recent years:

Our initial looks at an Excel spreadsheet of DMI data seem to indicate that semesters needed to graduate has remained the same or fallen slightly during the period and that the phenomenon is largely confined to Engineering and is recent in origin, but we need to do more investigation.

It makes sense that we might have fewer freshmen. Students coming in with a lot of AP credit may have the 30 hours necessary to be counted as sophomores earlier than they used to. That also might explain why there are somewhat more who have the 50 hours needed to be counted as juniors. But why the next level up — the 90 hours or more needed to be counted as seniors — has increased so much more than the other groups isn’t accounted for.

If the university were admitting more transfer students, that would impact the number of juniors as well as the number of seniors. So that doesn’t seem to be the answer. Is it about hanging around to get minors? Is it about being able to graduate early but not wanting to? Is it about programs that require more hours being more popular than those that require fewer hours? Is it a matter of transfer credits not meeting requirements or pre-requisites? What’s going on?

Your editor smells a story and assigns you to find out what’s happening. You will have to interview people in admissions, enrollment management, DMI, college offices and other related places to get an idea what they think might be going on. We’re not looking for just random, uninformed opinions — though it might help to ask a few students what they think, just to see whether there may be an answer that you and the experts haven’t thought of.  In the end, however, you’ll need to gather some concrete statistics backing up the most likely theories — and not just stuff from the spreadsheet your editor gave you.

Once you gather initial information from exploratory interviews, don’t be surprised if the original premise of the story changes. The statistics may tell a somewhat different story. Don’t be afraid of that. Embrace it. That’s what reporting is all about — finding new information not just expected information.

But statistics alone won’t make your story work. You then need to turn the story into something your readers will want to read. Typically, that means finding one or more human faces who represent whatever trend has been identified and letting your audience see how the trend or trends you have identified impact them in personal, relatable terms.

Gather pictures, sound and even video, if you can, along the way. We’ll be checking in on our progress every week or so and want to have finished stories well before the end of the semester.