Policy pushes long-time seniors to graduate
May 1, 2008 2:01 PM
SF State and California State University administrators are trying to nudge a small group of seniors out of the nest.
“We don’t want to just throw them out,” said Jo Volkert, associate vice president of enrollment planning and management at SF State. “We want them to graduate.”
Undergraduates with more than 155 units at the beginning of the spring semester who had not applied for graduation received e-mails. These 260 students were warned that they needed to meet with advisors and file an approved graduation plan, or their registration for fall would be denied.
Although 260 students may sound like a small number, Volkert said, they represent a larger problem.
The 260 students have top registration priority. If they sign up for an average of three classes, that’s 780 class seats that are closed to students who might need them to graduate in a more timely manner.
“What we have here is a precious commodity: a seat in a class,” Volkert said. “Our job is to allocate those seats in a fair way.”
The two-stage registration process now used at SF State was instituted last fall, in part, to give students with lower registration priority a better chance at getting pivotal classes.
Since the first round of registration is restricted to eight units, students with high cumulative unit counts can’t hoard a full schedule of classes before lower priority students get a shot.
The change is just one of many as CSU and SF State administrators begin to keep a closer watch on students who take longer, more circuitous routes to graduation.
Most baccalaureate degrees at SF State can be earned with 120 units. The most recent data, collected in 2005, showed the average SF State student graduating with between 139 and 141 units.
Unnecessary units can add up when students change majors or when classes transferred from another school don’t satisfy the same requirements at SF State.
CSU’s academic affairs is currently working on the Lower Division Transfer Pattern Project. The project gives guidance to community college counselors and students on how to optimize their coursework to dovetail into the CSU’s graduation requirements.
In other words, the project intends to keep students from wasting time on junior college classes that won’t count toward their degree goal.
Here at SF State, policies are changing to keep students from wasting their time, as well as the time of teachers.
Last month, SF State’s Academic Senate passed a new policy that will discourage students from withdrawing from classes and repeating classes multiple times.
According to a statement by the Academic Policies Committee, “the new course-repeat policy is intended to balance unfettered and equitable access to SF State resources. It will also promote careful planning of academic schedules, facilitate student advising at pivotal academic points, and increase enrollment opportunities for all students.”
The new policy will allow only a single repeat of a class, even if the previous grade assigned was a “W.”
Ray Trautman is an SF State professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the chair of the Academic Senate’s policies committee.
There are many reasons a student might need to withdraw from a class, Trautman said, and it is sometimes the smart decision to do so.
But what Trautman calls “a vicious cycle” plagues some students, particularly in science labs and some business courses.
The cycle begins when students can’t get into the lower level classes they need. Then they get desperate and try to take more advanced classes out of sequence. Several weeks into the semester—when they realize they are over their heads—they withdraw.
“That’s when we cry,” Trautman said. Because six weeks into the semester, he said, there are open seats in the lab.
“And for every single lab class,” he said, “there were students we had to turn away.”
The essence of the policy is to encourage advising at pivotal academic moments.
“If you haven’t passed after two attempts,” Trautman said, “that’s a pivotal academic moment.”
Former president of Associated Students, Inc., Isidro Armenta, agrees that the key is more academic advising.
Armenta lost his seat as ASI president in March because of a policy prohibiting undergraduates with more than 150 units from holding office in student government.
He doesn’t feel the new policies are unfair, but said that limiting students’ ability to repeat classes won’t fix the true problem.
“I think it’s time for a reality check,” he said. “The truth is that SF State does not offer the necessary courses for every student to graduate in a timely manner.”
Armenta points to what he calls the “silent reality” of scores of students who try to add classes on the first day of class but are turned away without being counted by the university.
He also notes that minimum unit requirements for financial aid can force students to take classes that don’t count toward their degree.
Armenta will become the first college graduate in his family in May. It has taken him five years to complete his degree.
“I have never occupied a seat in a course for the sake of taking up a seat,” he said.
“The Academic Senate has spent enough time crafting policies that create the illusion of greater class availability,” Armenta said. “It is now time to focus on policies and recommendations that will actually increase the total number of course offerings required for graduation.”
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