Students still struggle with academic advisement

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In her annual convocation address in August, CSUN President Jolene Koester addressed several campus issues and included university-to-student communication and academic advisement as two problems that need to and will be addressed.

In the speech, Koester emphasized the importance of consistent and accurate information about policies and requirements coming from various campus offices.

With the start of a new semester, numerous matters of concern surround the campus, as many students, faculty and staff try to understand the dynamic relationship between academic advisement and graduations rates.

Based on the 2000 CSU Accountability Report stated on the Graduation Rates Task Force’s website, Graduation rates for students at CSUN are among the lowest in the CSU system.

On average, less than 2.7 percent of first-time freshmen graduate within four-years or less with 28.2 percent graduating in six-years or less. The numbers for transfer students are similarly low with only 40.8 percent of transfer students graduating within four-years of entry.

Pedro Cesareo, an academic adviser for the Political Science Department and a political science graduate student, works through the Educational Opportunity Program. He also switches back and forth as an adviser for the Urban Studies and Planning Department and the Psychology Department.

According to Cesareo, he is the only adviser in the Political Science department. The department does not require advisement for its students every semester, he said.

Cesareo said professors are not trained enough for advisement and that with their teaching schedule, students are limited to the office hours set forth. He said many things affect academic advisement and that CSUN is not like a typical university in that not every student gets involved in university student life.

“Some students take classes here and there, but they don’t get involved with the university,” Cesareo said. “Students feel the need to work and be out of school-the mentality is to get out fast.”

Karren Baird-Olson, a coordinator for the American Indian Studies program and an academic adviser for the Sociology Department, said the main problem is that faculty members have full loads but are expected to do academic advisement, despite the time constraints and workload issues.

Hooman Amandi, senior accounting major, said that whenever he goes for advisement, the office is always crowded. Amandi said he once had an issue where he got the wrong advice about a course he had already taken not counting toward graduation. The course did end up counting, but he was told to take another course instead.

Cesareo said he emphasizes to students he advises the importance of reading and understanding their DARS reports, as the information needed to make good academic decisions is on the report.

A general education reform plan developed by the Faculty Senate and approved by Koester will be fully implemented in Fall 2006. One of the main purposes of the reform, along with allowing students to focus on specific areas of interests and the pursuit of a minor, was to simplify G.E. degree requirements and make them easier to understand.

Mary Pardo, chair of the Chicana/o Studies Department, is a member of the Graduation Rates Task Force. She said the new G.E. reform would help, since students will have freedom in choosing courses of their interest.

Pardo said she is pleased with the changes in the G.E. reform, but the process is still complicated. The changes could affect enrollment in the courses her department offers, she said.

“Enrollment is yet to be seen,” she said.

Pardo said the Chicano/a Studies Department has three official advisers on staff and that students can come in either through an appointment or as a walk-in.

“We prefer advisements by appointments, but we are always staffed-I do advisements, too, and (so does) the associate chair,” Pardo said.

Cynthia Martinez, sophomore biology major, said she had been seeing her adviser since her freshman year. She said that it was effective, even though it was not required by her department after her freshman year.

“I usually see the same adviser-I think the adviser I see is the head of the department,” Martinez said. “I can either walk-in or by appointment.”

Virginia Avila is the lead peer adviser at the Student Resource Center-EOP Office for the College of the Arts, Media and Communication.

“In high school there is the need to graduate, (but) here it’s different-it’s not the same; college has different needs,” Avila said. “I want it to be the same (in high school), with direction and the need to graduate, but then at the same time not holding them by the hand.”

Avila said advisement has improved this semester from previous semesters.

Recently, the SRC-EOP office staff had made themselves accessible to students during the first and second weeks of classes this semester, compared with last year when walk-ins were only available the first week.

“Some students have the need for urgency to see us-we have to be open and accommodating,” Avila said.

Pardo said that in the Chicana/o Studies Department, it is required that their students get advisement every semester or they will be given registration holds.

The department advises students from other majors and departments, but those students usually just need to get clarification as to what the department’s courses include.

“It is important to make advisement a priority,” Cesareo said. “We are getting better, and I believe eventually it depends on the students.”

Joanne Angeles can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.