Chairs worried about losing student motivation to graduate

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President Robert Vela addresses a College Council member Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center as Dr. Kristine Clark, interim vice president of student affairs, listens. Photo by Ian Coleman

President Robert Vela addresses a College Council member Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center as Dr. Kristine Clark, interim vice president of student affairs, listens. Photo by Ian Coleman

This college topped its goal for number of 2013-14 graduates.

M.J. Callahan

mcallahan7@student.alamo.edu 

Faculty Senate President Dawn Elmore, kinesiology Chair Brad Dudney and Jeff Hunt, theatre and speech chair, laugh at a mispronunciation made by director of admissions J. Martin Ortega at a College Council meeting at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center. Photo by Ian Coleman

Faculty Senate President Dawn Elmore, kinesiology Chair Brad Dudney and Jeff Hunt, theatre and speech chair, laugh at a mispronunciation made by director of admissions J. Martin Ortega at a College Council meeting at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center. Photo by Ian Coleman

Some chairs at this college seemed surprised to learn during College Council Tuesday that beginning this semester, graduating students will receive a generic Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree instead of a degree that shows the disciplines the students majored in.

This college had 2,924 graduates in the 2013-14 academic year, surpassing the target of 2,700, Martin Ortega, admissions and records director, announced at the meeting in the visual arts center.

Kinesiology Chair Brad Dudney asked how his department can reach degree quotas if his students choose a liberal arts degree instead of a kinesiology degree.

“When we advise to go to (the University of Texas at San Antonio), it’s almost … better for us to advise students to get liberal arts degrees and then we guide them through the 18 hours of the concentrations specifically for what they need at UTSA. Do they just have to be declared a kinesiology major or a math major or biology major for the Associate of Arts to count in our departments?”

President Robert Vela, chairing his first council meeting, said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board counts only the total number of associate degrees, and degrees within departments are counted internally.

“When we developed our A.A. in kinesiology just a year before we were told we were going out if the core, we had to hit certain numbers of graduates to continue to have that A.A. in kinesiology,” Dudney said.

“They are not tracking that,” Vela said. The state tracks only Associate of Applied Science degrees, but this college is tracking them for departmental performance reviews.

President Robert Vela and Dr. Conrad Krueger, dean of arts and sciences, talk before the College Council meeting at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center, while Vernell Walker, dean of professional and technical education, reviews paperwork.  Ian Coleman

President Robert Vela and Dr. Conrad Krueger, dean of arts and sciences, talk before the College Council meeting at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 in Room 120 of visual arts center, while Vernell Walker, dean of professional and technical education, reviews paperwork. Ian Coleman

“You know your chairs really don’t know that,” Jeff Hunt, chair of fine arts, said. “What’s my motivation to have so many graduates get our numbers up because it’s really not important anymore?”

“I completely understand that we want to be able to advise students maybe to a major or specific thing right now because we are right in the middle of (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) affirmation. This is not the time to roll this out; it’s just too much,” Vela said. “Let’s get through the reaffirmation.

“I am advocating a process in which we can allow our department chairs to bring forth programs with a plan for assessment — being able to market that particular major or degree plan so then it now becomes a program, it becomes a degree option. For right now, we simply have A.A. and an A.S.,” Vela said.

Hunt followed up, asking what the motivation behind helping students find a major would be if they’ll just be handed a generic degree.

He suggested the change is counterproductive, recalling the district wanting students to chose a major and avoid liberal arts.

Dr. Conrad Krueger, dean of arts and sciences, reminded everyone this college is under performance-based budgeting with 10 percent of the budget from the state.

This year is the base year for biennial funding from the state, and any funding growth will be based on completion for this year, he said.

Another concern is whether the state will count two generic degrees from one student or only give the college credit for one graduate.

“What I am saying is when the Coordinating Board looks at it they may or may not count it twice, but I have to look at that,” Vela said.

For example, in the past, a student could earn an Associate of Arts in theater and an Associate of Arts in speech, Hunt said.

“We are going to have to get creative with that terminology,” Vela said. “We are going to have to run it by our SACSCOC because even the word concentration will still trigger a program.”

At graduation, students hear their major announced. Dr. Kristine Clark, interim vice president of student and academic success, suggested announcing “look toward the future for those students and call it a planned major or a future major in … .”

“It’s not going to appear on their transcripts or on their diploma,” Vela said.

Students think they are getting an “Associate of Arts in XYZ,” Ortega said. “We need to start planting the seed now.”

Susan Espinoza, director of college and grants development, said what has been called until now a degree plan is really an advising guide. The “plans” were called “concentrations” in the 2013-14 college catalog and “advising guides” in the 2014-15 catalog.

“It’s not that they are not supposed to pick a major. They are supposed to pick. It’s just that we are not calling each discipline a program for assessment purposes, and that has to do with Northwest Vista because they never did, they never assessed it. … We always have actually and we still do so it wouldn’t kill us with SACSCOC,” Espinoza said.

“There are programs that have not been assessed,” Vela said.

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