A case study of academic advising at IUP

Alyson M. Regula, IUP early-childhood-education major, outside the Hadley Union Building, fall 2012. Submitted photo.

Alyson M. Regula, IUP early-childhood-education major, outside the Hadley Union Building, fall 2012. Submitted photo.

A Civic Project story

By Kayla Cioffo, Melissa Esing and Hannah McCracken

INDIANA — Days into the spring 2013 semester at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Alyson M. Regula, a sophomore early-childhood-education major, was leaving class in Stouffer Hall  when she heard a student sobbing.

“You only get two chances,” cried the girl, also an early-childhood-education major.

Regula knew what the student was talking about– the Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment exam.

Since 2012, PAPA is the standardized test that ed majors must pass with a minimum score of 685 before applying for teacher certification, according to the IUP Office of Teacher Education. The office imposed a two-time limit for taking the exam. But the rule eluded at least a half-dozen students, according to Regula and the department’s interim chair.

Regula said she did not know about the rule because her faculty academic adviser did not properly guide her.

“In fact, my adviser told me to take the exam until I passed,” Regula said in a March 12 interview at Starbucks in Folger Food Court.

Several unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the faculty adviser by phone and in-person for comment. Reached by email, the faculty member referred a reporter to a website for rules regarding the exam.

But three different passages on the IUP website contradict each other, making it harder to know the requirements, Regula said.

One website passage reads: “It might take several attempts before a passing score is achieved.” Another passage on the same page reads: “IUP requires that all Education majors pass the exam before being accepted into step 1.”

Neither passage puts a precise limit on test-taking attempts.

However, the Office of Teacher Education website, reads: “Students are permitted to take the PAPA test two times.”

When Regula heard her classmate’s sobs, she, too, began to cry.

“I instantly called my mom crying because I took the PAPA exam three times,” Regula said.

Thus began a saga of student academic advising that paralleled the priority the IUP Student Government Association placed on the issue in the 2012-2013 academic year. (See sidebar, below.) An SGA officer said in late May that student government will continue to poll students and press the issue in 2013-2014.

REGULA WENT to the dean of IUP’s College of Teacher Education and Educational Technology  to discuss her fears. On Jan. 30 she was told she had to change her major. On Feb. 1 she met her new adviser in her new major, child development and family relations.

“At that point there was nothing I could do,” Regula said. “I was kicked out of the education department and had to change my major within two days.”

Brooke M. Bachy, a sophomore early childhood education major, said she, too, experienced academic-advising miscommunication after taking the PAPA exam twice in January 2013.

Bachy said she was waiting to receive her score from her second attempt when she visited the office of Joseph W. Domaracki, Ph.D., interim associate dean for teacher education, to ask about the deadline to sign up for a third try, in case she would have to take it again. Bachy said this is when she found out she would have to file an appeal to make a third attempt — a choice Regula did not have since she became aware of the rule too late.

Bachy said she passed her second attempt, thus avoiding an appeal for a third. But she said she was upset with the miscommunication and lack of clear academic guidance.

“For the longest time, education had been the only thing I knew I wanted to do,” said Bachy in an April 5 email. “And the fact that my future could have been in jeopardy due to a lack of communication between the higher-ups, the professors and the students made me incredibly upset.”

Bachy said her adviser, Domaracki, did not tell her about the rule.

Domaracki responded by echoing a disclaimer on the DegreeWorks academic-advising website.

“Advising is a partnership,” Domaracki said in an April 21 interview in his Stouffer Hall office. “As much as it is an advisers responsibility to tell the student his or her program requirements, it is just as much the student’s responsibility to know them, as well.”

Domaracki is a member of the Teacher Education Coordinating Council, the committee that first set a two-strikes rule a decade earlier at an Oct. 29, 2001, meeting in which the Praxis I exam, a predecessor to the PABA, was discussed.  

The minutes of the meeting report the reason for the limit on Praxis I test-taking.

“We were concerned that if a specified number of times were not placed on taking it, prospective teacher education candidates might exhaust all other course possibilities before successfully passing the Praxis I,” the minutes report.

Domaracki said students are told about the rule at the department’s freshman convocations. He added that faculty members are asked regularly to update their student advisees.

Mark J. Staszkiewicz, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Department of Educational and School Psychology, agreed that students play a major role in academic advising. He added that students may not heed the advice they receive from their faculty academic advisers.

“Students need to understand what faculty can and cannot do in their role,” Staszkiewicz said April 15 in a phone interview. He added: “We do support students wanting to improve advising.”

AMONG STUDENTS seeking to improve academic advising are leaders of the Student Government Association, who spent the 2012-2013 drafting and emailing a student survey about the issue, the first of a series.

“This is a major project,” said Kevin C. Popeck, incoming SGA vice president, in a May 30 phone interview. (See sidebar, below.) “Look for a new survey to roll out in fall after the start of advising season.”

Meanwhile, to improve faculty academic advising, Kenneth W. Sherwood, Ph.D., a member of the Department of English, created a wiki that combines advising resources for IUP faculty. His motivation: He saw a need.

“I have been thinking about those who insinuate that faculty do a poor job with advising,” Sherwood said in an April 24 email. “I have repeatedly been frustrated with the lack of easy access to information and tools for doing this job as effectively and efficiently as I would like.”

Regula agreed with the need.

“Advising at IUP is very unorganized,” said Regula.

Epilog

IN MARCH 2013, the Teacher Education Coordinating Council raised the PAPA exam limit to five attempts, with an appeal option for a sixth try, according to Domaracki.

He said the council agreed to the change when the two-strikes limit became a problem for about a half-dozen students, including Regula and Bachy, during the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters.   

Regula said she was angered by the new rule.

“It makes me mad that just a few months after having to change my major because of a miscommunication over this rule, they changed it,” Regula said.

Kayla M. Cioffo, a sophomore majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Skippack, Pa.

Melissa L. Esing, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Royersford, Pa.

Hannah M. McCracken, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Bethel Park, Pa.

Sidebar: SGA’s academic-advising survey

In late April, every Indiana University of Pennsylvania  undergraduate student was emailed an 18-question survey about academic advising. The survey, months in the making, was the work of the Student Government Association.  (See text of questionnaire, below.)

SGA officers say academic-advising will remain at the top of the group’s agenda.

“We have heard many adviser/student miscommunication issues across the university,” said SGA President Taylor R. Billman in an April 5 email. “It is one of the key academic points of improvement being discussed.”

Taylor R. Billman, president, IUP Student Government Association. Photo by Fred Speaker.

Taylor R. Billman, president, IUP Student Government Association. File photo.

Billman said the SGA members are seeking solutions to academic-advising miscommunication.

“They are currently in the works of figuring out how to go about this issue, and what measures can be taken to improve the quality of advising both on the student and advisor end,” Billman said.

Outgoing SGA Vice President John R. Bercik said the survey is SGA’s first step of more to come.

“SGA’s motive in creating the advising survey was to simply gather some hard data that would thoroughly reflect how students felt about the advising process at IUP,” Bercik said in a May 8 email interview. “Additionally, we viewed the survey as the first necessary step on our way to improving the advising process, because it would provide us with concrete information that could not simply be ignored or pushed aside.”

But the results of the poll have not yet been analyzed, said incoming SGA Vice President Kevin C. Popeck, a student in IUP’s Department of Management Information Systems and Decision Sciences. And the response data are available only to SGA members.

Popeck said he has seen the response data.

“There are some really good areas of advising and some problem areas,” Popeck said.

He said he could not cite examples of each.

“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” Popeck said. “The data might not be totally correct.”

Popeck said a second survey is planned for the fall 2013 semester.

“We want to know what students think,” Popeck said. “We want to continue their feedback. Look for a new survey to roll out in fall after the start of advising season.”

 

Sidebar: The SGA survey — numbers, questions

Below is the text of an 18-question survey of IUP undergraduate attitudes about faculty academic advising. The April 23-29 survey was sponsored by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Government Association. The text of the questions was provided by outgoing SGA Vice President John R. Bercik.

The Qualtrics system administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab reported that the survey was started by 906 of 13,058 undergraduates to whom it was emailed. That represents a response rate of 7 percent. Of those who responded, 752 surveys were completed. The margin of error in the survey results would be roughly plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Possible answers to each question were: “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” “strongly disagree” and “don’t know.”

The questions about students’ academic advisers were:

  1. Helped me choose courses appropriate for my goals.
  2. Helped me understand my degree requirements.
  3. Monitored if I’m on track to meet graduation requirements.
  4. Kept my personal information confidential.
  5. Helped me understand the processes for getting an internship, independent study, and/or individualized instruction.
  6. Kept me up-to-date on changes in academic requirements.
  7. Was present during scheduled office hours, or scheduled alternate hours.
  8. Referred me to other resources from which I can obtain assistance (e.g., non-academic).
  9. Made it easy for me to schedule an appointment with him/her.
  10. Returned my emails or phone calls in a timely manner (48 hrs.)
  11. Was knowledgeable about career issues within in academic field.
  12. Encouraged me to assume an active role in planning my academic progress.
  13. Respected my right to make my own decisions.
  14. Allowed sufficient time to discuss relevant issues or problems with him/her.
  15. Was approachable and easy to talk to.
  16. Was knowledgeable about IUP’s processes and procedures.
  17. Was knowledgeable about IUP’s processes and procedures. (duplicate)
  18. Overall, I am satisfied with my advising experience here at IUP.

Sidebar: For more information/to get involved

For more information about this story, or to get involved in this issue, contact the following sources:

Taylor Ross Billman
President (2012-2013; 2013-2014)
Student Government Association
212 A Hadley Union Building
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Office: 724-357-7902
Email: T.R.Billman@iup.edu
Phone: 484-824-9663
Web: http://www.coop.iup.edu/sga/IUP_SGA_Join.htm

Kevin C. Popeck
Vice president (2013-2014)
IUP Student Government Association
212 A Hadley Union Building
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Office: 724-357-7902
Email: K.C.Popeck@iup.edu
Web: http://www.coop.iup.edu/sga/IUP_SGA_Join.htm

Joseph W. Domaracki, Ph.D.
Interim Associate Dean for Teacher Education
Stouffer Hall
College of Education & Education Technology
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2485
Email: jwdomara@iup.edu

Mark J. Staszkiewicz, Ph.D.
Department of Educational and School Psychology
Stouffer Hall
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-3787
Email:  mjstat@iup.edu

Kenneth W. Sherwood Ph.D.
English Department
Leonard Hall
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: 724-357-2606
Email: Kenneth.Sherwood@iup.edu

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One Response to A case study of academic advising at IUP

  1. Carol A Maderer says:

    “The Qualtrics system administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab reported that the survey was started by 906 of 13,058 undergraduates to whom it was emailed.”

    Does that mean that only a portion of undergraduate students were emailed the initial survey? If so, that statement explains why I was not emailed a survey. It raises the question, though, as to why only a portion of undergraduate students would be asked for their input on such a crucial issue.

    I would like to insure that I receive the follow-up survey so that I, too, can contribute to possible changes in the system.

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