Hard Conversations

The end of last semester brought all of our changes to the curriculum and professional development into focus when the first group of business students finished the primary core.  The numbers aren’t final just yet ( I will post them in my next blog), but roughly half the students who sought admission into one of our technical majors achieved their goal.  As you can imagine, this led to a lot of hard conversations in the last few weeks.

The goals of our new approach are to get students into majors where they can thrive earlier, graduate them with fewer excess hours and have them leave with a full-time job offer in hand.  Also because education is a collective experience, having people in the right majors improves both the rigor and quality of what goes on in the classroom.  The outcomes are the most important: people leave better prepared.; program quality goes up; and graduates are more confident that they are on a path to success.

Not surprisingly, many of the students who failed to achieve their initial goal were upset. Several seemed convinced that we would have no choice but to modify our approach because in their eyes, too few students got into their major of choice. The reality is that our approach is based on the performance histories of tens of thousands of students who have come through the college over the last decade— the percent of students succeed in certain courses, how performance in those courses impact performance in later courses and how this all leads to post graduation success.  We only have one semester of experience with this system, but so far it is producing the results we expected.

Other students wanted to argue that they were misadvised, that the grading scale in a class was unfair or that someone else had a special advantage.  External attribution is a common response when faced with disappointment, but it’s hardly ever true. We provide everyone the same opportunity. The office staff keep detailed notes on advising visits, grading scales are the same for everyone in the same class and course prerequisites ensure everyone started from the same point. No system is perfect, but there isn’t a way to be misadvised or disadvantaged in the primary core. Everyone has the same shot in the same courses as they move through the system.

The toughest conversations involved students who just wanted the chance to bet on themselves and repeat the experience again. The system does allow for a one class repeat, but for those finding themselves in a deeper hole, past experience tells us the chances for success are remote and that the student’s interests are best served by meeting with a career coach and charting a new academic future.  The key is to get it done early and not fall victim to the fallacy of sunk costs.  Recognizing that things change and that you need to adapt is one of the best skills you can develop.  The change you are going through now will not be your last and at least you have a guide to help you think it through. More successful days lie ahead

To all those in the College who had those hard conversations with students, especially the OPD staff who took the brunt of student disappointment, thank you. The fact that they were hard meant they were important.  The fact that you were willing to have them, showed you cared.  Some will thank you later. Others never will. But I’m firmly convinced we are on the right track and that you are all a key part to our rising success.

6 thoughts on “Hard Conversations

  1. The College of Business is the worst college in the system from what I can tell. From my experience in the College of Engineering, and with others in various majors, your college is inefficient and the advisors have been misleading twice. I have a 3.3 gpa and spend three days when them each semester. They make me continually late for work, the office rarely doesn’t have a wait, and thanks to your regulations I can only take 13 credits this semester. THE GUIDANCE OFFICE is the only part that needs to be fixed. It’s ridiculous your set up with the lack of advisors during early and final weeks of the semester.

    Everything you said was well written but I felt half was false. And you were sugar coating how well the college is doing. I hear nothing but negative reviews from students who are typically doing well and that’s more of an indication to me the college is doing eh than your well written speech and statistics.

    Knock off those who haven’t passed and aren’t doing well and you will still get pretty mixed reviews from those left. Keep working at it. It needs a lot of work still in my opinion and in the opinion of others.

    Thank you for reading this if you did,
    Chance Owen

    • Hello Chance:

      Sorry for the delay in responding to you, I’ve been traveling a lot the last few weeks and wanted to review your record before responding to you.

      I will post your comment publicly along with my response if I get an okay from you. Let me briefly address a few things.

      The OPD’s challenge is related to large changes in the curriculum that were executed over the last two years. To my knowledge, no other college on campus has gone through a similar change over this period. The advisers are not misleading students, they are telling people what was true at the time they visited,. Then things changed. Because of university procedures, they can’t announce these changes before they are officially approved. If students don’t pay attention to the official emails from the OPD they can be surprised by these changes and it leads to last minute demands by students to see OPD staff.

      As to “my regulations”, the curriculum is controlled by the faculty and the rules they put in place are designed to preserve the integrity of the degree program. The integrity of the degree program is our single most important asset. When people take things out of order or ignore completing some requirements (for example, common program prerequisites) before moving on to other things, yes they run out of options. It is one of the reasons things need to be done in order. The primary core makes this even more important.

      As for wait times in the office, if you go during peak times, like any other office, you can expect to wait. Take a look at my recent blog post where I discuss how many people were seen during the first few weeks of 2016. That is more than 8 times the typical week. I can’t staff for that peak in the way you would want. If I did, I would have lots of people with little to do most of the semester. The best way to avoid those lines is to plan ahead and get an appointment with the office earlier… essentially “beat the rush.”

      Lastly, hard conversations do in fact leave some students dissatisfied. This is not just true for those who are struggling academically, it can also happen to others who don’t like the structure the curriculum requires. Sometimes, you have to tell clients things they don’t want to hear. But I would not judge the basis of our efforts on that information alone, because there are higher order outcomes at stake and my statistics capture a much broader set of people than the interactions of any single student.

      Has every single interaction with every student gone off flawlessly, of course not. But that doesn’t negate the progress we have made including the statistics that tell me we are on the right track.

  2. Pingback: And Your Choice is Powerful! – UCF Office of Professional Development

  3. Pingback: Listen to your Dad! – UCF Office of Professional Development

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