September 11, 2013: ADCOM Minutes

Graduate Council Advisory Committee
Lister Hill Library, room G08
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Members present: Puri Bangalore, Alan Eberhardt, Melissa Galvin, Ken Miller, Jim Collawn, Bryan Noe, Susan Rich, Jeffrey Engler, Cecelia Graham, David Brown, David Vance, Edwin Cook, Roderick Fullard

Staff: Thomas Harris, Susan Banks, Cyndi Ballinger

Guest: Dr. Brent Gage, Dr. Fouad Fouad and Dean Iwan Alexander

Action Items:

The meeting began with the introduction of guests and new ADCOM members.

Action Item 1: Dr. Brent Gage presented an update regarding new federal regulations for Veterans Title IV Federal Financial Aid.  New attendance audits are required for veterans enrolled in course work who are receiving federal financial aid. The government now considers financial aid to be a consumable benefit. This means that students who receive financial aid and enroll in course work have to attend through the 60% point of the semester in order for the benefit to be “consumed”. If they do not reach the 60% point, there is a federal calculation system that determines what amount of aid was actually consumed and what amount of aid needs to be repaid by the student either to the Veteran’s Administration or to the Department of Education. The most common method used to address this issue by other institutions is to put into place a mechanism to record the last day of attendance. Dr. Gage asked the ADCOM committee to consider two possible solutions that they can take back to the faculty in their departments for consideration and provide feedback. The first method, which is more common in the PeopleSoft software (and also available in Banner), would be if an instructor enters a grade of F, the instructor cannot move on to enter the next student’s grade until they enter the last day of attendance for the student who failed. For most students who have earned an F, the last day of attendance will be the last day of the term. However, if the instructor saw that the last grade recorded for that student was earlier in the semester, then that’s the last attendance date that should be entered for that student. This approach requires a faculty member to enter the last date of attendance for every student who fails a course. The other method being used at some institutions is to create a new grade type called FA, which means failed based on attendance. The FA grade will also require entering the last date of attendance for that student when the grade is entered. This might require the instructor to take attendance, whereas many do not for graduate courses.  However, many faculty and administrators are reluctant to add a totally new grade category. All the Department of Ed and Veterans Admin are looking for is some indication that the student was there on a certain date. If the student takes five classes and has different last date of attendance for each, the very last date that can be tracked can be used as the last attendance date according to how the regulation is written. Because of the way federal regulations are changing around title IV, this is something that will need to be activated very quickly. Auditors are already asking for their last date of attendance for students who failed courses during the last term. The current mechanism to determine the last date of attendance at UAB is to use systems like Blackboard, but what’s being projected back from Bb is really not very accurate information. Having faculty enter the last date of attendance is a much more accurate way of doing this.

 Dr. Gage wants feedback from faculty members regarding 1) which of the stated process is preferred, and 2) how to effectively inform the faculty so they will know when it comes to their grading period that this is a requirement that will be in place.  Committee question: Could the last exam taken by the student  be used, obviating the need to take attendance every day? Response: yes.  Feedback from ADCOM members regarding the options will be sent directly to Dr. Gage. The goal is to have a UAB wide recommendation in place by October 15. It will then be taken to the Faculty Senate as an information item for feedback. Then, there will be a campus-wide distribution to everyone on the course instructor of record master list to inform the individuals who usually enter grades. A reminder message will also be posted for instructors when they login to post grades.

Action Item 2: Review of two proposals for adding tracks, Sustainable Smart Cities and Structural Engineering, to the Masters of Engineering program. The proponents of the proposals were Drs. Fouad Fouad and Engineering Dean Iwan Alexander. There are currently three tracks in the Master’s of Engineering program: Information Engineering Management, Construction Engineering Management, and Advanced Safety Engineering Management. All three have been extremely successful as graduate programs and they are almost exclusively online. The two new track proposals are very different from the existing tracks.  The basis of the need for the Structural Engineering track is because Birmingham is a metropolitan area within which massive amounts of structural engineering currently occurs.  The track will be offered purely online and will be designed for working professionals and structural engineers who have difficulty attending classes because they are working full time. The faculty is in place and is experienced in online delivery of courses. Adjuncts from the within the industry will also be used when needed.

The Sustainable Smart Cities track emerged from a new focus and interest. Dr. Alexander is interested in sustainability and expanding it as a focus in education and research as well as within the local community. Teaching support for the new courses will come from both the UAB Business and Medical Schools.  The audience for this track will also be working professionals e.g.: architects, engineers of any background, city planners, etc. so it is more diverse and open to students from various backgrounds which makes it different from the Structural track.  An attractive feature is the revival of Birmingham and the issues that affect a city that is emerging from  previous industrial successes followed by a post-industrial decline.   Students will access presentations and course materials through Blackboard. There will also be live sessions with faculty for interaction online. The online delivery method will be similar to what is already in place for the other three tracks. Presumably, as the Office of Online Learning evolves there may be some adaptation to whatever the preferred delivery mode will be.  A committee member asked if the traditional students already here for the MSCE would be allowed to take some of the courses in either of new these tracks online. Response: Students who are here for the traditional track will not normally be allowed due to the differences in fee structure for the online presentations, and because the course work differs significantly from that in the core MSCE courses.  If students were allowed to take the online courses in the new tracks, they will have to take them outside of their pursuit for the MSCE degree and the courses will count as an elective which is not part of the required MSCE curriculum.

A motion was made and seconded to accept the Sustainable Smart Cities proposal. No further discussion.  The committee vote to approve the new track was unanimous. A second motion was made and seconded to accept the Structural Engineering track proposal.  No further discussion. The committee voted unanimously to approve the new track.

Action Item 3: The CIRTL Certificate program was discussed by Dr. Jeffrey Engler. The Center for Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning which is an NSF funded program involving 22 major research universities from around the country. It is designed to improve undergraduate STEM education by focusing on the training of graduate students to be effective teachers.  It involves online courses taught by all of the members of the consortium. There are three core concepts: teaching as research, interdisciplinary learning communities, and learning through diversity. Three certificates designed to recognize different levels of student achievement are offered: CIRTL fellow, CIRTL practitioner, and CIRTL Scholar. The Practitioner and Scholar certificates are of sufficient academic quality that they should be posted on a student’s transcript. Biology, Physics and Chemistry grad students who serve as TAs have been part of a CIRTL pilot program at UAB.  A committee member asked about advertisement to faculty to encourage their approval for their students taking it. The Biology faculty is fully on board as a result of direct communication to them, and because of certificates already earned by Biology students. A comment was made that the JHS department faculty will push back due to tuition expenses, no teaching requirement, and the courses not being part of the students’ degree requirement.  It was acknowledged that this in a ongoing problem in that no alternative sources of tuition coverage have been available; a problem not remedied with the new NSF grant as a result of a large reduction in the proposed budget. 

A Certificate proposal will be drafted for consideration by the committee. If it is approved it will be submitted to the Board of Trustees as an information item. Dean Noe proposed that have the draft proposal be reviewed prior to next month’s ADCOM meeting to move the process forward more quickly.  Dr. Engler will draft a certificate proposal which will be circulated to ADCOM members prior to the next committee meeting with a request to respond as is convenient.

Action Item 4: Review of the Graduate Student Handbook verbiage regarding the course repeat policy. The way it is currently written implies that students can basically repeat courses indefinitely. The only caveat is in the last sentence which states that graduate programs can  restrict the number of times a student can repeat a specific course.  In some departments students do not understand that by retaking a course multiple times all subsequent repeat attempts after the first affect their GPA. It was proposed to ADCOM to state  a repeat limit in the Graduate Student Handbook.  One recommendation was to state that a student can only retake a course if they earn a grade of C or below.  Ultimately, the committee agreed to simplify the Handbook statement and change the first sentence to make the repeat decision the exclusive prerogative of the student’s program. A motion was made and seconded to accept the new verbiage. No further discussion. ADCOM approved the new verbiage.

Action Item 5:  What are the registration requirements for grad students to be designated as a “full time student” during fall, spring and summer terms?  The Graduate Student Handbook verbiage in this regard has been interpreted in different ways by various programs.  Dr. Noe indicated at the outset of this discussion that if ADCOM decides that verbiage changes are appropriate, whatever the suggested changes are can only be a recommendation. The recommendation will then have to be approved by the school Deans and Provost because if enrollment requirements were to be reduced, it would affect tuition revenue which makes up a significant component of the operating budget of most schools.

There is a wide variety of practices in interpreting the current Handbook verbiage and how the interpretation is applied to advising students regarding enrollment.  Students may be advised to enroll enroll for full time (9 hour minimum), part time (5 hour minimum) or for fewer than 5 hours.  Dr. Edwin Cook from Psychology took the lead in this discussion.  Dr. Cook’s comments and suggestions were largely representative of the way things are done in the Psychology and Sociology doctoral programs.  Dr. Cook began by stating the focus of a proposed change in Handbook verbiage is based on the ambiguity regarding summer enrollment requirements.  Considering the current Handbook verbiage and reviewing the content of representative fellowship / assistantship letters (which also discuss enrollment requirements), most of the sources suggest a student on fellowship / assistantship funding needs to be enrolled full time year round; that would be nine hours in the summer as well as fall and spring. There is also an suggestion in the Handbook that five hours may be sufficient for summer enrollment. Some departments in CAS recommend the five hour enrollment for summer and others do not. It’s problematic in CAS because most faculty are on nine month appointments; accordingly, very few courses are offered in the summer.  As a consequence, students “pad” their enrollment  with research hours, and reading hours to get to nine hours. Most tuition is paid either by the department, from research or training grants, or from fellowships. This represents a high cost to the department or other funding sources. Sociology has basically stopped requiring enrollment for students during the summer because of excessive tuition costs. 

It was pointed out that students at UA can opt out of enrollment during the summer session and do not receive any type of tuition payment. Students at UAH must be registered for nine credit hours during any semester in which they hold an assistant/fellow appointment, so students at UAH can also be removed from their appointments during the summer to eliminate tuition costs and then re-appointed in the fall. Students with outstanding student loans must maintain at least five credit hours of registration in any semester to be considered enrolled as students. With regard to VIVA health benefits, students don’t have to be enrolled at all during the summer for their coverage to be maintained, but must be enrolled as full time students both in the pervious spring semester and in the subsequent fall semester. ADCOM members voiced concern with the requirement to register for nine hours during the summer. 

Dr. Cook distributed a recommendation for changing the Handbook verbiage regarding the definition of full time enrollment.  The proposed verbiage would apply only to students who are in some way receiving support from the university; it does not affect students who pay their own way in professional / practice based programs.  ADCOM members were advised to share the CAS proposal with department chairs and with faculty members in their respective departments. The topic was tabled until the next meeting to allow ADCOM members time to get feedback from their programs.

The meeting adjourned at 5:35 p.m.

(ADCOM web site is http://www.uab.edu/graduate/graduate-council-information