Valenti seniors face graduation delays amid advising issues
As the semester comes to a close, several seniors at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication are having to postpone graduation due to issues they attribute to poor advising within the programs.
Journalism senior Aimee Pezina transferred to UH in Spring 2018 after earning her associate’s degree from Houston Community College. She was originally set to graduate in Fall 2019 — something that she said she’d been told by her adviser — but she said that changed when she met with them April 4.
“She looked at my degree plan, back at her computer, did some clicking and looked back at me and said I needed 37 hours, and 13 of those were miscellaneous hours,” Pezina said. “When she said that, all I could hear was, ‘You’re going to be here another semester and you need to come up with more money.”
Pezina said her advising issues began in earnest during orientation, when students were sent home early due to harsh weather conditions. They didn’t get to see their advisers to put their schedules together and were left to figure it out for themselves, she said.
“I was new to the school, the waiting list was long and I didn’t really know how to get help,” Pezina said.
Despite never getting the chance to see an adviser that first semester, Pezina managed to figure out her requirements and enroll in courses for both that spring and the following fall. When she finally was able to see an adviser in Fall 2018, she said they told her she did a fine job picking her classes and was on track to graduate on time.
She still doesn’t know what changed between then and April 4.
Trever Thomas, the lead adviser for communications students, said students can avoid surprises in their enrollment and get a better handle on their graduation requirements by regularly and carefully reviewing program requirements with their adviser. She also said students should meet with their advisers earlier, rather than later.
Meeting regularly with an adviser, however, has proven challenging for some communications students, with each adviser being responsible for more than 400 students.
According to data from the UH Office of Institutional Research, there were 1,641 students enrolled in communications programs as of Fall 2018, and only four advisers serve students in those programs.
While advising at Valenti does offer walk-in appointments each Wednesday, the Academic Advising page of the school’s website stipulates that those times are for small concerns only, and not for comprehensive advisement.
Multiple students in COMM 3315, Social Media and News, reported additional issues with advisers incorrectly recording the classes they’ve taken, marking certain requirements as satisfied when they were not.
“It is very important that if this is happening with students, that those affected inform myself or their primary COMM adviser right away so that we can look into it, determine next steps and get it resolved before it is time for the student to graduate,” Thomas said.
While talking to the advisers can resolve some of these errors, both Pezina and Nguyen said they are still being affected by mistakes from a lack of communication by advisers. Still, Thomas said, visiting one often is important for staying on track.
“To avoid a student spending time and money in taking a wrong elective, it is strongly recommended that they first meet with their adviser,” Thomas said.
Future of advising
Advisers are human, Thomas said, and mistakes can happen. To best prevent students from being penalized as a result of advising mistakes, Thomas said students should keep documentation of their advising appointments and make sure to quickly communicate any issues they find.
If an adviser is found at fault, Thomas said the department will do what it can to help students meet their requirements by deadline through petitioning previously taken courses. Thomas said an adviser at fault would also likely have conversations with higher-ups in the department.
“This is not everybody’s’ calling, and those that are called to it should be constantly sharpening the saw and learning to be better through constructive criticism,” Thomas said. “With this (advising) staff being new for the most part, there is coaching that they have to go through.”
While petitioning courses is and has been a means to help make up for requirement shortfalls, Thomas said the Valenti School of Communications and the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences are introducing higher standards for petitioning classes.
“I would definitely say the door isn’t slammed on petitions, but we are being more careful,” Thomas said.
She has to review and justify any petitions sent through to CLASS and the Provost — though, she said the issue could be helped by clearer guidelines from CLASS on both petition and degree requirements.
Psychology senior Ivy Nguyen was surprised to learn from her major adviser as she was applying for graduation that a 4000-level COMM class she was enrolled in couldn’t be used to satisfy the requirements of her journalism minor. Though she hadn’t discussed the course with a Valenti adviser prior to enrolling, she said she was under the impression the course could be used.
“I went to talk to the COMM adviser during walk-in Wednesdays, and she said I had to petition it to get the class I’m currently taking approved, but it was a 50/50 chance,” Nguyen said.
Her petition was ultimately rejected by the CLASS dean, and she now has to take a different elective over the summer in order to re-apply for graduation.
“I still get to walk, but that’s another $1,000 I have to spend,” Nguyen said. “I can’t even sign up for classes until my graduation application gets denied.”
While Thomas said the department will work with students to correct mistakes students have made, students will usually have to retake those requirements.
Pezina and Nguyen both blame their issues graduating on unclear communication regarding advising and degree plans.
“I decided that after taking six classes this semester and working two jobs that I will accept the later graduation date,” Pezina said. “I feel like I was set up for failure because there just isn’t a strong academic advising center.”