Date: May 24, 2016
To: Office of the Registrar, Christopher Newport University
From: Erin Holtz, Alum
Subject: Study on Candidate for Graduation Requirements and Restrictions
The purpose of this study was to propose a change in qualification requirements to be a candidate for graduation, allowing senior class students taking a Maymester to complete their degree requirements to walk with their class and receive their diploma in May.
Christopher Newport University allows students that qualify to participate in graduation as a “candidate for graduation.” Via Christopher Newport University’s school website, a student only qualifies as a candidate for graduation if they have completed all necessary courses for their degree requirement BEFORE summer courses begin (including May) and happened to have not met the grade requirement for a course to be applicable to their degree. Their unqualified grade in a class must be in the Spring semester immediately prior to graduation in May, and the Registrar personally contacts students in this situation to extend the opportunity to them. On the website it explicitly states in bold writing that, “Students who have remaining degree or University requirements going into spring semester, or who intend to finish their requirements in the summer or fall semester, are not eligible to participate in the spring commencement ceremony.” Consequently, seniors forced to take a May semester course, for whatever reason, must wait until August to receive a degree, and wait a full year to walk in the spring commencement ceremony with the following year’s class.
Christopher Newport University does not explain why they have such strict regulations on who may or may not qualify to be a candidate for graduation. I am seeking an explanation as to why seniors taking a Maymester must be forced to wait until the month of August to receive a hard diploma, and wait a full academic year to walk with a class they didn’t even study their senior year with. Most daunting of all is the fact that straight out of finishing the May semester and completing degree requirements, seniors typically begin their career search. Having no hard diploma to give employers for two full months can truly put a damper on the process. As heard from multiple professors in CNU’s Luter School of Business, the first job that a new grad receives defines them. Employers look at their ambition and drive immediately following completion of a degree, which is most easily shown by what job they landed coming out of college. Aiming low is unwise, but may be a new grad’s only option given that they will not receive a degree—something that many job applications require right off the bat—for two to three months after actually completing it.
To better determine students’ understanding of the term “candidate for graduation” and the conditions and restrictions on who may and may not qualify to assume this status I released a survey to gather fourteen responses from Christopher Newport University students, past, present, and future. I did so by posting the survey on my personal Facebook profile page. Further, I emailed professors that I have had to see what their stance was on candidate for graduation restrictions and limitations. Students were asked to define “candidate for graduation” in their own words, to weight in on the restrictions presented to Maymester seniors, and asked their honest opinion on the subject.
The findings gathering from the survey I conducted were revealing about the attitudes both students and teachers have toward the issue of qualifying as a “candidate for graduation.” All responders expressed that they think that seniors that must take a Maymester course should be allowed to qualify as a candidate for graduation and walk with the rest of their senior class, and all provided their own reasoning for the positive answer. When asked if CNU should, at the very least, supply graduates with a hard copy of their completed degree at the end of May upon completing their final class—even if it means waiting to walk—responses were a near fifty-fifty split, making the proposal less conclusive.
If a student is in good standing, has no other make-up classes, and must only take one class during the May semester (that is, only needs 3 or less more credits to complete their degree) they should be allowed to walk with their class conditionally. The “candidate” title that the graduate would hold is only dropped upon successful completion of the Maymester class, deeming the student a full, complete Christopher Newport University graduate.
During the May semester of year 2016 I conducted a qualitative research study to determine whether to change the restrictions to be a candidate for graduation for Maymester seniors to walk and receive their degrees in May with the rest of their graduating class. As one of those seniors, learning that even if I did work extra hours and take a CLEP exam I still wouldn’t be walking with my class was deflating news. It was this restriction that led me to excuse my CLEP approval and simply take two classes at a local community college during the summer to finish my degree, since I won’t be getting it until August anyway. After chatting about it with fellow seniors, I learned that some other people either have had the difficulties themselves or know someone who has faced the same fate as myself. In learning this, I decided to release a survey asking for the opinions of CNU students of the past, present, and future, as well as collect personal responses from professors on the subject to determine if this is something that we can change. I tried to keep my survey questions as open-ended as possible, allowing CNU students’ voices to be heard on the subject.
Key Words: maymester, senior, candidate-for-graduation, restrictions, registrar, students
I found myself in a difficult situation as I neared the end of my college education and began to prepare to take my senior seminar to finish out my degree. Despite putting in hard work for the past 3 years after transferring from a local community college, I finished out my last Spring semester with only one degree requirement left but 8 credits short of the required 120 credits to complete an undergraduate degree at Christopher Newport University. After completing my final class in the May semester, I would still need 5 credits to meet the 120 credit requirement. Quickly, I gathered advice from my advisors and filled out a permission form to take a CLEP test to gain the extra 5 credits so that I could graduate with my class. CLEP tests are intensive, and require extensive study time and preparation—in addition to costing a pretty penny—but I would do anything to graduate with my class. It was only when casually telling my advisor about my plans that I was told that there was no possible way for me to walk with my class.
Since I had to take my last class for my degree requirement in May I would be ineligible to graduate—not even as a candidate for graduation. The news was devastating. All of the spreadsheets and organized class schedules and override forms I filled out seemed to have amounted to nothing. I wanted nothing more than to walk the stage with my friends I studied with for 3 academic school years at Christopher Newport University, but there wasn’t any way that I could. When I was told by the registrar that I won’t receive my diploma until August I decided to save myself the stress of enduring the CLEP exam, and signed up to take 2 online “fluff” classes—classes I absolutely do not need but am forced to spend the money to take—at a local community college instead. I will complete all necessary credit hours as of July 30, 2016, and will receive a hard copy of my completed diploma in August of 2016. I will not walk the graduation stage until May of 2017.
The more I reflected on the issue with friends and family and saw their outraged reactions, the more the whole situation bothered me. I became passionate about the issue at hand, and decided to conduct my research report on what other people—people that I’m not directly friends with that can have an anonymous voice—thought about the situation I’m in. It’s only then that I realized I’m not the only one. People have endured this, are currently caught in the situation, or will be in the future. I want to try to help future seniors avoid the situation that myself and many others have been forced into, be it from faulty registration, unfortunate living circumstances, or other restrictions that are seemingly out of students’ hands that are keeping us from graduating with our class.
I chose to use a phenomenological approach paired with a narrative method of study. The phenomenological aspect of my research is the fact that it is collected strictly from CNU students and staff members, and my 2 broad, open-ended survey questions present the opportunity for individual thought processes and responses. While my initial intention was to survey individuals who have experienced the unfortunate circumstances that a senior Maymester student is put in, time constraints led me to, instead, look into the amount of knowledge known by CNU citizens on the subject as well as bring into light some harsh realities that only some of us are forced to face.
It was important to go into this phenomenological study with no assumptions being made about the data prior to or during collection. My open-ended questions featured language that remained neutral and unbiased, and stuck to facts. In structuring the questions this way I would be better able to gather honest, unfaltering opinions from respondents.
This research has a narrative method of study folded into the phenomenological study. The open-ended questions left room for emotional responses—in which there were many—and allowed students to tell their story, however brief it may be. My own story applied to the data, and was the driving factor of my decision to do the research project on this subject.
1. I created a survey using Google Forms thru my CNU email’s Google Drive, consisting of 6 questions. I emailed the survey personally to professors, and posted the link to it on my public Facebook profile page. A collection of 14 total responses was the result. All responders were either CNU students or staff.
2. Using a phenomenological approach paired with a narrative method, I gathered responses using open-ended survey questions and analyzed the following data using word clouds and entering all responses to one question into the builder to see which words were most commonly used.
5 out of the 14 responders to my survey admitted that they were not familiar with the term “candidate for graduation.” All responders, however, are aware of what the Maymester is. While it may seem daunting that not all responders were educated on the very subject of this survey, they are learning what it is to be a qualified candidate for graduation as well as gaining insight into something that they had no knowledge of. Further, it shows, in this study, that not all of the options are laid out to CNU students to be aware of. That’s something to consider.
My first big open-ended question was: Seniors that need to take a Maymester course to complete their degree cannot walk with their class but, instead, must walk with the next year’s class in May. What is your opinion of this? To which I received the following as some of the appropriate responses:
- I think we should have more options
- I don’t think that’s a good policy. If they just need to finish one or two courses and are scheduled to during the May term, then they should be allowed to walk at graduation
- The rule should be changed to allow a student to participate in graduation if they are within a limited number of hours to complete their degree.
- It is unfortunate, but I can understand why it is done that way.
- I think it depends on the situation. If it is one class, then it may be acceptable to walk early. But if it’s more than one class then they should have to wait.
- The nature of these responses is very emotional and, some of them, frustrated.
Almost all responders proposed an idea, whether it be to alter the rule for X reason or to make it applicable to X group of people based on X requirements.
My next open-ended question received all “Yes” responses, followed by a responders explanation for their answer: Should this restriction be changed so seniors that must take a Maymester can qualify as a “candidate for graduation” and walk with their class? Why or why not?
Some of the following are sample responses to this question:
- Yes. However, I would not limit this requirement by a timeframe.
- Yeah, I think they should change it. If you are only 3 credits shy of walking with your class and you’re taking that class during maymester/ summer classes hen you should be able to walk.
- I do think so if it’s for only one course because anything more than one would be too much.
- Yes. Frankly maymester could conceivably be completed between the last day of finals and graduation so it seems silly to treat it like a more time consuming deal than it is. Also, not being able to walk with your friends because of potentially 1 credit is pretty humiliating
- Yes. It doesn’t make much sense with the current restrictions.
- Yes because CNU is a hard school to get classes that you need.
I finished by proposing an idea and gathering responses: Seniors cannot collect a degree until August if they take a Maymester to finish their degree requirements. This places restrictions and causes difficulties when applying for post-graduation jobs. Should CNU at least offer the option of presenting seniors with a hard-copy of their degree at the end of May?
Upon completing my own survey my answers would be as follows:
1. Yes, I am familiar with the term “candidate for graduation.”
2. “Candidate for graduation” refers to being eligible for graduation contingent upon the completion of degree-required courses that have been previously failed. Upon successful completion of the course(s) a student will be a graduate.
3. Yes, I am familiar with what a Maymester is.
4. I think it is unfair that seniors be subjected to this as a punishment for finishing a little later than others for reasons that may be out of their hands.
5. Yes, if only for the reason that they can graduate with happy college memories right in their rearview instead of having them collecting dust while you continue to live your life for another entire academic year doing whatever it is you choose to do. The inconvenience is huge.
The responses to my other open-ended question featured many responses where participants passionately described their distaste with the rules and some went into detail about registration, making it impossible to get a good, appropriate response. Thankfully, participants that responded to my fifth question regarding whether or not Maymester seniors should be allowed to walk with their class were much more sophisticated in their explanations.
Within my 14 responses to this question, the word “yes” appeared 9 times and “walk” 10 times. Further, “just” was used multiple times followed by the words “classes” and “credits.” The size of the words “yes” and “walk” appeal to my purpose in conducting this survey and analyzing this research.
Overall, the message is clear. “Yes. Walk.”
“Graduation.” Christopher Newport University website. Christopher Newport University. 23 May 2016. < http://cnu.edu/registrar/graduation/>.
Holtz, Erin. “Candidate for Graduation Qualifications and Restrictions.” Google Forms. 20 May 2016.
Candidate for Graduation Qualifications and Restrictions Survey
1. Are you familiar with the term “candidate for graduation”?
2. If so, define “candidate for graduation” in your own words.
3. Are you familiar with what a Maymester is?
4. Seniors that need to take a Maymester course to complete their degree cannot walk with their class but, instead, must walk with the next year’s class in May. What is your opinion of this?
5. Should this restriction be changed so seniors that must take a Maymester can qualify as a “candidate for graduation” and walk with their class? Why or why not?
6. Seniors cannot collect a degree until August if they take a Maymester to finish their degree requirements. This places restrictions and causes difficulties when applying for post-graduation jobs. Should CNU at least offer the option of presenting seniors with a hard-copy of their degree at the end of May?