Officials deny problems with advising

Junior music and Spanish major Janie Bergamasco said she has had a few problems with advising at the university.

Recently she wanted to change to a double major, but when she asked for advice, she kept being referred to different people, she said.

“It took a semester to finally happen when all I needed them to do was click a button that says I now have a double major,” Bergamasco said. “I think there needs to be more general advisers to help people keep up with graduation.”

According to a survey of graduating seniors from 2007-2008, 9.5 percent of students said they had delayed graduation because they were misadvised.

Cathy Coghlan, assistant director of Institutional Research, said not all graduating seniors responded to the survey – only about 60 percent did, and there is not a way of knowing the particulars of their reasons for delayed graduation.

“Students self-report that they have been misadvised,” Coghlan said. “What we don’t know is how well the students prepared for their advising sessions: did they go in and ask questions, did they do some self-preparation before that, did they have a clear idea of what they wanted to major in?”

Andie Piehl, assistant to the dean of the College of Fine Arts, said she requires students to file for their degree plans at 54 hours and their intent to graduate form at 96 hours in order to ensure she can catch any glitches early enough to prevent delayed graduation.

She said in the past four semesters she cannot recall more than one or two students who were not able to graduate on time because they were not enrolled properly, and in those cases, it was the student’s mistake and not the adviser’s.

“I would be shocked if there were actually 9.5 percent of students that weren’t well advised in our college,” Piehl said. “We do have faculty that are not as good at advising as others, but when we encounter a student who is having a problem with their adviser, we have another person in every department that we can send them to.”

Lynn Cole, assistant dean of undergraduate programs for the Neeley School of Business, said the school has professional advisers working full-time to help students with the core curriculum, business school curriculum and the graduation requirements.

She said that often students perceive a miscommunication as being misadvised.

For example, Cole said if an adviser puts down a humanities course and the student selects a class that was not in that category, the student will interpret it as being misadvised.

Cole said all advisers document their advising sessions in order to catch mistakes.

“If we do make a mistake that is going to delay someone’s graduation, we are going to fix it,” Cole said. “For instance, if we’ve advised them to take a course that turns out is not offered the last semester they will be here, we will look for a substitution for that course.”

Dick Rinewalt, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said advisers keep records at each advising session so if a student does complain about being misadvised, they can look back and see if the adviser or the student made the mistake.

He said 9.5 percent seems very high and would estimate only a third of that in the College of Science and Engineering.

“Anything greater than zero is a problem,” Rinewalt said. “But perfection is impossible.”

Ranae Stetson, an associate professor of education and faculty adviser, said the first step in advising is an initial interview with the student to get to know him or her personally and what he or she wants to ultimately do.

She said new advisers sit in on sessions in order to get hands-on experience and every session is recorded so that if a mistake is made, the adviser can accept responsibility.

“There will always be glitches because we are humans, but we try to minimize those mistakes by being as clear about a student’s career goal as possible,” Stetson said. “The way I want to look at it is if over 90 percent of students are getting accurate advising, then that’s pretty awesome.”

Paul Carpenter, a Brite Divinity student, said that although he was not advised at the university as an undergraduate student, he understands why students would report being misadvised.

“Students often use advisers as scapegoats,” Carpenter said. “When life is hard and complex, it’s a human tendency to point outside of ourselves to lay blame. Life’s hard, you gotta blame somebody.”