University officials decide on one annual spring commencement ceremony
Fall registration begins April 2 for December graduates.
The University’s Executive Cabinet decided March 22 after meeting with the graduation committee to only have one commencement ceremony per year starting in the fall.
Dr. Mary Ann Grams, associate vice president for student affairs, announced this at the President’s Leadership Council meeting March 23. She said the decision was made because of the cost generated by moving graduation from Community Bible Church on the North Side to Freeman Coliseum, which is a larger, East Side facility.
Marilu Reyna, associate vice president of University Communications, said the previous ceremony location, Community Bible Church, would be sufficient for the about 400 students graduating each semester, Reyna said, but would not accommodate graduates’ guests. Reyna said students had communicated their frustrations about the limited number of tickets for guests.
Moving to the larger facility would eliminate the limited 8 tickets per graduate, Grams said.
Reyna said about 75 percent of students are first in the family to graduate from college and find it important to have their families present at the ceremony.
“We wanted to fix that,” Reyna said.
Therefore, there will be one commencement ceremony each spring at the Freeman Coliseum at 3201 E. Houston St. This spring, commencement is scheduled for May 18 at Freeman Coliseum.
By moving the ceremony to the coliseum, there are additional costs for audio and visual equipment and decorations, which will be separate from the coliseum’s rental fee of $4,000.
Reyna said the rental cost for Community Bible Church for fall 2011 commencement was $12,200. She said the church’s rental fee included some amenities that are not included in the rental fee for the Freeman Coliseum, such as the audio equipment, two large screens and flowers during fall graduation ceremonies.
Although the rental amount for the church may seem significantly higher, Reyna said the University will still have to pay additional costs to lease décor, audio and visual equipment, etc. She said total cost of this spring’s ceremony has not yet been determined.
Grams said the decision would frustrate some students who’ve applied for December graduation, but said the University will work with those students to see if they can walk this May or if they can return May 2013.
Six students expressed their frustrations on The Mesquite Facebook with generally the same complaint: “We all deserve this recognition at the time it is due,” wrote Melissa Benavidez.
Mariana Garcia said: “Walking the stage in December is supposed to be my shining moment — a well deserved ceremonial display of recognition at the time of completion. I should not have to wait for almost half a year for acknowledgement!”
Michael Persyn said, “Walking six months later will be anti-climactic …. Graduation immediately after my undergraduate career was to be the shining jewel in my salvaged academic crown.”
Other students asked about relocating the ceremony outside of Main Campus Building.
In response, Reyna explained that if the University plans a ceremony outside, they’d have to have a back up rain plan. This would include the University to still rent a facility in case of rain, which would be the same expense.
She said they looked at other facilities but said San Antonio is limited and facilities accommodate either 10,000, which is too much, and 3,000, which is too little.
In the meeting, Grams noted that students will still be able to graduate in December, and the University will send students their diploma and transcript.
Reyna said at the point that the University grows to 5,000 to 8,000 students, and there are closer to 500-700 graduates, the University will have to start looking at a second graduation.
“We are going to try this out,” Reyna said. “We want what is best for students.”
She said if next year the ceremony is too long and the stands are empty, then the graduation committee will revisit the issue.
“We are open to know that it may not work or have answered all of our issues,” Reyna said.
In other news, Laura Pantano, assistant vice president for student engagement and success, said students will be able to vote via SurveyMonkey March 28-29 on the $40 recreational fee for fall and spring terms and $20 fee for summer terms. Pantano said the survey will be through Blackboard and students will receive an jaguar email notification. Read related story.
The referendum was previously intended to be added to this spring’s Student Government Association ballot, but the elections were postponed until the fall.
April 2 — December graduates who have applied for graduation;
April 3 — Military students and DSS;
April 4 — graduates students and MSI group;
April 5 — juniors and seniors;
April 6 — sophomores;
April 9 — open registration to all students.
The priority deadline for financial aid is March 31.
Budget process ongoing
Kenneth Mitts, vice president for finance and administration, gave a presentation on the budget process, which the University is undergoing for fiscal year 2012-13.
Throughout March, division heads were asked to form feedback from their departments regarding the needs. In April and May, Stephanie Scott, assistant vice president for financial services and comptroller, Mitts and President Maria Hernandez Ferrier will meet with each division head to review their requests. Then, Scott will make projections of revenues and subtract costs like utilities and salaries. In May, the Executive Cabinet will meet to discuss priorities and the budget will be submitted in early June.
Mitts explained that the Legislature cut funding for the University by $4.8 million in the next fiscal year. Therefore, the University cannot request funding until the next biennium.
“This upcoming fiscal year is going to be very tight,” Mitts said.
He said the Legislature will base its funding to the University based on enrollment growth in the next fiscal year.
International student services expanding
Sylvia Medel, assistant director of enrollment services, said she is looking into expanding the services offered to international students and immigrants through enrollment services.
She discussed three options that students have: The F1 student visa, J1, an exchange visitor program, and H1B, an occupation visa.
The F1, which enrollment services already offers, involves a relationship between a student, the institution, designated school official (DSO), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
SEVIS electronically monitors arrival of international students, their enrollment and whereabouts.
Medel said after a student completes their education with the University, they can apply for work authorization through optional practical training (OPT), which the University is required to monitor for one year.
Medel said the University is working to expand to include the J1 option, where a student from Texas A&M-San Antonio goes to an international University in exchange for an international student that would come to this University through a J1 visa. This would require the two institutions to be at an agreement and the international student would register with the Department of State.
There is also the H1B option, which specializes in international persons coming to A&M-San Antonio for occupation for three years. This option is currently handled through Human Resources and personnel at A&M-College Station, but Medel hopes to transfer this service to the international student services in house.
“We’re working on an official name for the office,” she added.
Through the expanded services, Medel said she hopes it will improve services to international students and immigrants.
She said Texas is at number three in the nation with the most international students.
Medel said there are international students and immigrants from India, Mexico and South Korea, which are the top three countries.
She noted that by expanding services, the international student population would grow, and if the University had 100 students, it would generate $3 million.
• Business Professor Syed Harun said a hiring committee is in the process of interviewing three professors for accounting, economics and computer science for the fall. He also reported that all of the business classrooms have been booked for 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. classes for the fall, and the business department is looking into holding more classes at later times and possible utilizing the small auditorium based on experience from classes there this semester.
• Dr. Robert Lopez, head of School of Education, said they are working on the Toyota Texas Teacher STEM Scholarship in partnership with Palo Alto College, Toyota and high schools. The scholarship will be awarded to a high school student who wants to be a teacher in a STEM area. He said applications will be due April 30 and they will announce the scholarship winner in May. High schools involved are South San, Somerset, Southside, Harlandale, Southwest and East Central high schools.
• Holly Verhasselt, assistant vice president for academic affairs, gave a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or SACS accreditation update. She said she finished the federal requirements March 22, and will back track to complete institutional effectiveness forms.
“Finally yesterday, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
She also noted that even after the University submits the accreditation forms, the process is still not complete.
• Grams reported on behalf of the office of student affairs. She spoke about refund checks, which go through the financial aid office at A&M-Kingsville. She said checks are only written once a week, which might explain the delay.
• Pantano announced another T-shirt swap hosted by Campus Activities Board, formerly Student Programming Board, on March 27-28 where students, faculty and staff can get a free A&M-San Antonio T-shirt in exchange for another University T-shirt. She said the exchanged T-shirts will be used for the Clothesline Project in April, which raises awareness for victims of domestic violence.
Pantano also said the University will continue the online orientation, which was required of incoming students this semester as a pilot. She said students who have not completed the orientation have registration holds on their accounts. The students have been notified, and Pantano said the office of student engagement and success personnel are removing holds daily.
• The University is hosting its first Fiesta event “Festival de Cascarones” on April 22. The event is free and open to the public. Food will be for sale, but activities like moon bounces will be free of charge. Alcohol will also be sold.
• University Communications Specialist Jill Reddish said everything from the old website has been transferred to the new web content management system. She also said the directory is now at the top right of the University website.