CSUN communications to get overhaul, officials say

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Toward the end of the summer, when freshman business management major Alber Melkonian finally decided to check his campus e-mail account, he said that messages regarding deadlines to turn in financial aid forms had been collecting for some time.

Freshman kinesiology major Michaela Andrews also noticed several messages about important deadlines that were left unopened in her campus e-mail account, she said.

Both students said once they straightened issues out with Financial Aid they were able to start classes without a problem.

Meanwhile, campus officials are studying how to make e-mail, the primary method of communication between the university and students, more effective.

“The reality is many campuses are using electronic (communication) as the primary means of communication, and CSUN needs to do it as well,” said Javier Hernandez, director of Student Outreach and Recruitment at CSUN. “The issue we’re discussing is how do we transition students to use our electronic communication.”

“The key to all of this is going to be the way we market it to students,” he said.

Hernandez, along with the nine other members of the Integrated Communication Committee, spends two hours every Friday studying the communication process from the start of the application process, through admittance and matriculation, and into the first semester of classes, he said.

Integrating all the pieces of information involves pouring over seven large, three-ring binders full of e-mails, letters, and brochures all the different colleges and departments send to admitted students, according to Cynthia Rawitch, said vice president for Undergraduate Studies Integrated Communication Committee chair.

Rawitch said the committee has to review the material for any repetitive, confusing or contradictory information that may inconvenience students.

“At times students and administrators are not on the same page,” Rawitch said. “We are confusing students who don’t get messages in a reliable manner. Students don’t know what is important and what isn’t important.”

Students who fail to respond to e-mail alerts notifying them of missed deadlines or disenrollment should have been notified by other means, Rawitch said.

“We can’t force students to check their campus e-mail,” Rawitch said. “Unless, e-mail becomes the only way to talk to students about critical information. But to reach a student by disenrolling them is a bit harsh. In theory, they should have gotten a phone call or a letter.”

Neither students, Melkonian nor Andrews, remember receiving such a courtesy call or letter over the summer, they said.

On Aug. 17, 1,431 students were disenrolled from their classes for non-payment, an increase of 65 percent from 2004’s 865 disenrolled students.

“Once school started I checked my campus e-mail account and saw all the e-mails from Financial Aid that I missed. Now I check it regularly,” Melkonian said, adding that he is considering forwarding his campus e-mail account to his personal account.

Andrews said neglecting to check her campus e-mail nearly got her disenrolled.

“Luckily I checked it right before they did,” she said.

Because students from different colleges and departments must also deal with a large volume of information regarding Student Housing, Financial Aid and student orientation, problems arise when information does not reach the students in a timely and logical manner, according to Chris Villa, assistant vice president for Student Access and Support Services.

“We are trying the streamline the sequence and content to make more sense,” Villa said.

During the academic advisement period, more than 1,500 letters are sent to students’ residences twice a year, according to Cindy Barrett, assistant to the associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

She said the work of copying letters and folding and stuffing them into envelopes takes a lot of time that could be saved by switching over to electronic communication.

“Electronic communication is more efficient,” Barrett said. “Every single day we are e-mailing a student something. It involves a lot less work.”

Eventually, all the correspondence that a student receives over their entire stay at CSUN will be subjected to the committee’s scrutiny, members said. Freshman and transfer students enrolling in Fall 2006 should benefit from the committee’s overhaul, they said

John Chandler, CSUN spokesperson, said the university is committed to addressing the problems that plague the communication process.

In keeping with the two initiatives President Koester outlined in her August convocation speech, there is also an Advising Policy and Reconciliation Committee working to reform general education requirements and improve graduation rates.

“Ultimately, it is the students responsibility to go online,” said Hernandez of Student Outreach. “E-mail is the official form of communication for CSUN. But, we need to change the culture so students know where the information is at.”

Julio Morales can be reached at julio.morales.605@csun.edu.