Fifth-year promise coming to Central

Gaudino said the school will pay for the fifth year if a student takes more than the allotted four years.

Julia Moreno/Observer

Gaudino said the school will pay for the fifth year if a student takes more than the allotted four years.

Ray Payne, Staff Reporter

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On Jan. 27, President Gaudino went to Olympia to testify in front of the House Committee on Higher Education in support of a funding request for the creation of a new software system for scheduling and advising at Central.

The new program would reduce the time and cost of earning a degree.

According to the summary of the new software, it’s in the university’s best interest to make sure students don’t waste time or money by taking unnecessary courses or stalling until a required class is available for a student to take.  

“If it’s our fault that you can’t do it, you shouldn’t have to pay an extra year’s worth of study to do it,” Central President James Gaudino said. “We’ll let you take those classes we messed up for free.”

Along with the creation of this program, dubbed “Degree Planner” or the “Fifth Year Promise,” HB 2691 proposes a commitment by Central that any student who commits to a four-year degree program and follows the pathway agreed to by the student and advisor, but still doesn’t graduate due to an administrative error will be able to take that class for free their fifth year.

The university’s willingness to provide for the Fifth Year Promise was commended by the Washington state legislature.

The Degree Planner will computerize the university’s course catalog and can be used by both students and advisors to assist in keeping the student on track.

The program will allow students to develop their schedules quarters in advance to ensure that required classes for their program will be open when students need to take them.

The classes can be guaranteed to be open because the software will predict staff and classroom space needs ahead of time by tracking student progress toward degrees in real time.

One criticism that Gaudino acknowledged about the software is the fear that some students may be entered into the system on a degree plan too early. Some students may stay there out of fear that it might be too late to leave the program.

However, Gaudino had a response to the criticism.

“If you keep it open and keep it flexible and let the students do the ‘what ifs,’ then there shouldn’t be a real downside to this program,” Gaudino said. “This doesn’t lock you in.”

Gaudino pointed out the software will allow for flexibility and differ from the other universities that offer similar programs, but will not guarantee classes if the student strays from the course path agreed to by their advisors.

“We want to give students the ability of seeing their path, even if it changes,” Gaudino said.

While the use of this type of software is nothing new for other universities, Central would be one of the first schools in Washington to implement this type of fall-back program for students.

According to HB 2691, the legislature will use this program as “an innovative pilot for other institutions of higher education.”

“We’ll set the bar in the state of Washington,” Gaudino said.

The academic advising office at Central has already received a boost in funding and more advisors have been hired.

Academic advisors still account for a large number of students; the Degree Planner is intended to assist in the planning process for advisors.

“Some advisors of mine have up to 800 students assigned to them,”said Scott Carlton, director of Student Achievement Outreach.

The number of students who are assigned to an advisor can vary based on several factors, including the number of students in a major.

According to Carlton, one of the goals of academic advising is to create more of a partnership between the students, their advisors and faculty.

The ultimate intent of the Degree Planner is to make it easier for the student, their academic advisors and their major advisors to all communicate and understand what the student’s current path of study is.

“By providing real-time updates on student work, advisors and faculty can intervene before students take unnecessary classes, don’t take enough classes, or drop out of school,” according to the Degree Planner summary provided by the university.  

Another problem in advising that the Degree Planner is looking to address is how a student sometimes can stray from their academic plan and not even realize it.

The software would send a notification to the student and all of their advisors if anything involving their plan goes amiss.

When a student realizes that “all of a sudden, they’re taking too many credits,” a system that could prevent this would “be helpful,” Carlton said.

Students are still urged to make an effort to meet with their faculty advisor multiple times a year.

Even with a system such as the Degree Planner, errors can still be made and everyone makes mistakes so there needs to be equal work from the student and the advisor, according to Carlton.

Gaudino said that the implementation of this program will first be for undergraduate students and then move on to graduate and prospective students.

According to Gaudino, it will take a good amount of time to get the program up and running after it’s been approved, but it will be worth it and students should be patient about this.  

“Fundamentally, this is good for students,” Gaudino said. “That’s the bottom line”.

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Fifth-year promise coming to Central