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Seniors holds are a crucial step toward graduation in CLASS

Holds removed by attending advising sessions that chart a course to earning a degree

Being “placed on hold” has negative connotations ranging from feeling ignored to listening to bad music while waiting for a customer service representative to pick up a phone call.

Seniors in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, however, are learning that being placed on hold can be a positive move that increases their success in their last year of college.

“While the senior hold undoubtedly seems intrusive to some students, it allows our advising staff to do their job of facilitating student success more effectively,” said Dean John W. Roberts. “We can see the result of this small intervention in student graduation rates." 

When a CLASS student completes 90 credit hours of coursework, that student is officially classified as a senior.  Achieving that milestone is the first step in the most important and culminating event of every college career – graduation.

To help students contain their senior year to 12 months or less, CLASS has mandated that each of its seniors meet with an advisor in the department of his or her major.

In that mandatory advising meeting, the student learns exactly what it takes to complete a degree in the major and what he or she needs to do to complete  all the graduation requirements in the next two or three semesters.

“We always encourage and set as a goal for students to graduate in four years,” said Jyoti Cameron, an academic specialist in the CLASS Office of Academic Affairs.

To get full compliance, the College has authorized the Office of Academic Affairs to place an enrollment hold on CLASS seniors, which temporarily disables the student’s ability to enroll in new classes. The hold is lifted after the senior meets with the academic advisor.

Students nearing graduation are often so busy that it can sometimes seem as though the mandatory advising sessions are just something else to add to an already demanding schedule. But the goal of the “senior hold” is to give the student all the information needed to succeed at the most important task – graduating.

“We have been doing this for several years now,” Ms. Cameron said. “We send an email out to students several months in advance of registration so they can plan for their next semester’s enrollment.”

There are currently nearly 4,000 seniors in CLASS, and each of those students is required to meet with their advisor before they can register for their next semester of courses.

Senior holds were first implemented in CLASS 2008. Before the Fall 2008 semester, the overall CLASS graduation rate was at 70 percent -- meaning that 70 percent of the students who applied to graduate actually met the graduation criteria.

As of 2011, CLASS was at a graduation rate of 85 percent for all students who applied.

CLASS Academic Affairs also closely tracks the classes of first-time-in-college students, called cohorts, as they navigate through their college years. Although many students still graduate in four years, some students take six years or more to graduate.

The rising cost of a college education, and more students working and going to school simultaneously, can lengthen the amount of time it takes to complete a Bachelor’s degree. National tracking and reporting measures use the six-year retention rate.

The 2003 cohort was the first group Academic Affairs used to track cohort graduation rates, meaning the number of students who entered in 2003 and graduated six years later. The 2003 cohort graduation rate was 34.3 percent.

This year marks the sixth year at UH for freshmen that entered in 2007. To date, their graduation rate is at 53 percent and CLASS still has the rest of this summer to graduate additional students within the six-year window. The CLASS 2007 cohort graduation rate exceeds the UH overall graduation rate, which is currently 43 percent.

Dean Roberts credits the increased graduation rates to the senior holds policy and other changes in the College’s approach to helping its students succeed.

“Graduation requirements are complex but very well understood by our core of professional advisors in the College,” Dean Roberts said. “The hold guards against the tendency of some students to 'self-advise' without a complete sense of the requirements that they need to fulfill to graduate." 

Mary Daniels graduated in May with a degree in Psychology. She said her senior hold advising meeting confirmed for her that she was “on the right path towards success.”

“The senior holds are beneficial because they require students to attend an advising session, which, in turn, provides valuable information regarding progress,” she said.

The various departments within CLASS can choose to manage the mandatory senior advising process in the manner that best works for their students.

For example, the School of Art hosts “senior advising months” each year. This idea began after department advisors realized that time would not allow them to meet with all seniors if the students waited until late March or late October – just before registration begins – to schedule advising appointments.

“To assure quality advising for seniors before their enrollment appointment dates, we began recommending that seniors schedule advising appointments in September to be advised for the following spring semester and in February to be advised for the following summer and fall semesters,” said Cindy Bowden, Academic Advisor for the UH School of Art.

“September and February are now designated as ‘senior advising months’ in the School of Art so that seniors are given the opportunity to come in early for a 30-minute appointment and receive the service they deserve,” she said.

Regardless of the department within CLASS, there are certain graduation requirements that apply to CLASS students – and University of Houston students – across the board. Those policies are reviewed during the advising meetings as well.

“We have a checklist of critical items to be covered in the advising meeting,” said Cameron. “Advisors will go into detail about major-specific requirements. In addition, advisors will review and ensure seniors are complying with university-wide graduation policies, which includes ensuring the final 30 credits are earned at UH, that the student has a 2.0 grade point average in their major and minor, and that students have signed degree plans.”

Academic advisors know that negative connotations still cling to the practice of placing a hold on a student’s records. But they work hard to show students the positive side of the process.

 “When we first started the holds, it was an adjustment for both students and advisors,” said Cameron. “Over the years we have found that both students and advisors feel like the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. That way, there is a smooth transition to graduation.”

- By Monica Byars