Recent changes to graduation policies have sparked a wave of confusion across the campus of Cogswell College. Specifically, a last minute decision to implement a pre-existing guideline regarding GPA and credit requirements left a number of students who were expecting and cleared to “walk” unable to participate in the 2017 ceremonies.
Stephanie Muscat, a student in the Digital Media Management program at Cogswell, was one such senior affected by this change in regulations: “Two semesters ago, I got a letter in the mail saying I was graduating in May of  and I needed to turn in this form, so I did everything, I paid the $100 to get it all set up and everything… The next semester, I got another letter in the mail saying I was graduating in May and I got the same forms.”
This was Muscat’s first sign that something was awry. Curious as to why she was being asked to fill out a duplicate copy of forms she had already submitted a month before the upcoming ceremonies, Muscat decided to take initiative and follow up with the Registrar’s office.
“I asked, ‘I thought I turned this in already; can you double check for me?’ and they told me yeah, I’m all set to go, but I’m not supposed to be graduating until spring of 2018.” Leaving the interaction more confused than she was when she entered it, Muscat headed off to confer with her academic advisor, Briana Quinn. “…So I went to Bri’s office and [after] 5 minutes of being in her office and her telling me that I had 4 classes left and that I should be good to graduate.” During the conversation, Brittany Bogle, Dean of Students, walked in to tell Stephanie that she would not be able to walk because of a policy change in January: between the summer and spring semester, a ‘graduating’ student must have less than 18 unfinished credits. Stephanie had 21.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not one that was unique to Muscat. Nick Miller-Sanchez, another student in the DMM program, had a similar story to report. After a lack of communication leading up to the ceremony, Miller-Sanchez decided to follow up on his graduation status. It wasn’t until this point, weeks before the Spring ’17 graduation, that he was informed he no longer qualified to walk, despite previous confirmation to the contrary.
For both students, the issue was not so much the new requirements themselves but more the lack of communication and general air of confusion that surrounded the whole situation. Stephanie had been told that she would be graduating spring of 2017 for two semesters. “I was mad,” she exclaims, “I wasn’t notified about this policy change until a month before [the ceremony] was supposed to take place.” Stephanie attempted to arrange a meeting with with her mother, Brittany, and Bri.
“... they just did not have time to see my mom and they just kept kinda beating around the bush. So by the time we could even do anything it was already too late.”
The school was happy to refund her $100 graduation fee, but the damage was already done. Her family had already booked their flights for her ceremony, including her mother, who was missing her own graduation to attend Stephanie’s.
“When Brittany had told me that [I couldn’t walk in the ceremony], I was like a deer in headlights and I just broke down, because you work so hard for something… and then it suddenly gets taken away.”
The problematic nature of how this change was implemented was not lost on members of the school’s administration. “There definitely has been some miscommunication with regard to graduating from the college and the commencement ceremony,” Dean of the College Jerome Solomon acknowledges. “What we had in place, which I just signed a form to change it to go through the Catalog Committee now, which Brittany Bogle put forth, was to actually remove the GPA requirement.” Dean Solomon did not know why the College implemented the rule in the first place.
“I don’t know why we did that or why we had it, but it was definitely a mistake, I would say. I know that the issue is out there so honestly I agree with the students wholeheartedly on this. I think the academic requirements of graduating from the college and participating in the ceremony should always be the same... The last thing I want to do, personally, is to remove the ability for people to celebrate their achievements.”
Briana Quinn, BBA/DMM Academic Advisor at the time, was able to shed further light on why the school may have decided to implement this new policy: “I do know, from an advising perspective, there were a few students who walked [before the new policy was introduced] and [still] had one or two classes [to complete], or even more than that, and were kind of M.I.A. So we’re trying to get in touch with them, like, ‘Hey, you actually do need to finish your degree: even though you’ve walked it’s not completed.’ So I think that that issue was large enough, just as a concern on the advising team, that [the new rule] needed to be enforced”
Quinn also spoke to the poor communication between the administration and the students affected by the policy change, stating that she herself was not made aware of the change until roughly five weeks before the graduation ceremony. She pointed out that this is the likely reason students may have felt they were left uninformed until the last minute.
As it stands now, students must have 2.0 GPAs and complete all classes in their degree plans in order to qualify for graduation - and they must be registered for, and complete, 18 credits or less in the final two semesters before the ceremony in order to walk. Failing to meet the latter requirement means waiting a year before being provided the opportunity to walk during the next ceremony.
“I haven’t made up my mind if I’m going to be doing the commencement ceremony this following spring,” Muscat says about the postponing of her graduation ceremony. “I think it’s a little ridiculous I have to wait a whole year just to walk across a stage. … Apparently they’re not even going to mail me my degree until the next commencement ceremony is done, so even though I’m completely done with my classes I won’t get my diploma until after the ceremony (May 2018), even if I’m not walking. That makes no sense to me.”