Advising to keep students on right track

Toward the end of April 2005, nearly 1,900 freshmen students had registered for the fall 2005 semester on time. Two weeks later, about 1,600 additional freshmen signed up for classes past their registration date.

Seniors were also behind, with approximately 800 late registration dates.

According to Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies Glen Besterfield, this may be one of the reasons why completion of a four-year college degree may take students five, six or even seven years to finish college.

“If you miss your registration time, we can’t help you get a good schedule,” Besterfield said. “See your adviser now, and register on time. If you want to get a good schedule, if you want to get the classes that you need to graduate on time, you need to register on time.”

Most USF programs require about 120 credit hours to graduate, but students are exceeding this number with classes that don’t necessarily fall under their major requirements.

“It turns out that right now our students graduate with about 28 excess hours,” Besterfield said. “They’re graduating with almost a year in excess. That’s not a figure we’re proud of at all.”

Besterfield said some of these excess hours come from students who take weightlifting and other activity classes in order to boost their GPA. Others come from prerequisites and remedial courses that are not degree applicable as well as courses students may have to retake.

But some students said part of the reason they had excess credits was due to poor undergraduate advising.

“I’m going to be graduating with 140 to 150 credits,” electrical engineering student John McNaught said. “I was advised to take a lot of classes as an undergraduate that I didn’t need for my major.”

McNaught said he was told to take macroeconomics. Later he found out macroeconomics didn’t count towards his degree and was required to take engineering economics.

One student said he had known other students who didn’t even know why they had to take some classes.

“He’s not sure why,” English major Guerschom Alcin said. “Just one of his advisers suggested he take the class. I’m pretty sure he needs. It must be a prerequisite.”

This year, there are six new undergraduate advisers, and Besterfield said they’re looking for two more. Undergraduate advisers are being placed in offices specific to their colleges so students will be talking with advisers in their field of study.

According to Besterfield, it’s important to get students to graduate in a timely manner, not only for their own good, but also so the University can make the benefits of a college degree more available.

“We’re in a phase right now where we’re trying to increase our selectivity at the University,” Besterfield said. “But unless we can get students out in a timely manner, we are basically going to be closing doors to some students from the community. In order to provide access at the university level for those students, we have to get the students who are on this campus out in a timely manner.”

In an effort to help solve this problem, Academic Advising has made several new changes to track students this semester.

One new program, called Tracking the Academic Progress of Students (TAPS), had its debut at the beginning of the semester.

TAPS is an online database containing more than 120 curriculums and outlines semester by semester what classes students need to graduate in a 4-year period.

“When you go to the curriculum page, you’re going to see every curriculum on this campus, semester by semester, telling you which classes are important to get in sequential order,” Besterfield said.

Required courses and prerequisites are marked with higher ratings than electives outside specified majors.

“Whenever it says a high-priority course, take it then,” Besterfield said. “If you want to flow nicely through your programs, make sure you are always getting high priority classes in a timely manner.”

Some programs have more strict curriculums than others, and students will need to have their schedules mapped out well before they register for their first class.

Unfortunately, upper-class students will not be able to use the new program.

“The new system will be available to freshmen only,” Besterfield said. “Within four years, we’ll have this for all the students on this campus.”

However, Besterfield said the program could be used as a template for all students since most curriculums don’t change courses significantly.

Besterfield also helped restructure the Student Academic Support System for advisers.

The new SASS audit, called the SASS Based Tracking Audit, places courses in a semester-by-semester sequence.

But Academic Advising may drop the SASS system for Curriculum Advising Program Planning, a program that’s part of Banner and OASIS.

“It may possibly take the place of SASS,” Besterfield said. “We’re going to determine whether it can pass the muster, and if it does we’ll do it.”

Besterfield said pilots of the new program will begin soon and will test whether the program functions correctly and appeals to students.

Approximately 1,000 students from the College of Engineering and the College of Business will be advised through the CAPP system in the coming weeks.

Registration for spring semester starts Nov. 7.