ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Emily Sarvis missed what would have been her first graduation.
Because she didn’t know she was graduating.
Central New Mexico Community College gave her two associate degrees, in liberal arts and in general studies, along with a certificate in education.
Sarvis, who is a biology major, had no intention of graduating last semester, nor did she apply to graduate. Her plans were to take more courses in biology before transferring to the University of New Mexico.
But a new pilot program CNM instituted last year decided that she had enough credit hours for two degrees and automatically enrolled her in graduation.
That program has helped CNM more than double its graduation rates in the past two years, which also helped the school win a prestigious award this year for improving student services.
It wasn’t until a week after CNM’s graduation ceremony that Sarvis received a post-graduation survey asking about her experience that she first realized that she had received a degree.
“I was mostly in shock. Why didn’t (CNM) tell me this happened? It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if they had just informed me beforehand so I could have brought my family to come celebrate with me and walk the line,” Sarvis said.
Sarvis, who did not graduate from high school but received a GED, said she felt robbed of a graduation experience.
That could be the case for any of the other 2,500 students that CNM graduated this spring through the new program. The program uses software to find students with enough credit hours and automatically gives them degrees.
Eugene Padilla, CNM’s associate vice president for enrollment management, said the project is in its pilot stage and will improve with time.
“Because it’s a pilot project that’s really a goal: We always want to do better for our students, and we’re going to move in that direction. Our goal would be that students who have left here would be able to participate in the graduation ceremony,” he said.
Padilla said students who automatically graduated in the spring but weren’t invited to walk in the graduation ceremony will be able to do so in December.
The project, he said, is meant to help students who took the necessary credit hours for a degree but either dropped out or didn’t know they had to apply for graduation. Most associate degrees require about 64 credit hours.
Padilla said the school was concerned over the number of students who had enough credit hours to graduate but never filed for graduation. According to a survey that the school conducted, there were several reasons for that.
“One is that they didn’t know how. Two is they didn’t know they had to. And three, no one told them about it. And so this is still an ongoing challenge that we have with students not applying for graduation,” Padilla said.
CNM awarded more than 4,600 associate degrees and certificates this spring, according to a spokesman. The college awarded 4,113 degrees and certificates in spring 2012, the first year the automated program was in effect. That number was 1,870 in spring 2011.
James Roach also graduated this spring without his knowledge.
Roach had one more course, math, to finish before graduating with an associate degree in integrated studies, a general degree that is not transferable to a four-year college. But he took part in the December graduation ceremony, expecting that he’d still need to take the math course to get his degree.
Instead, he got a call this spring from CNM telling him his diploma was ready for pickup. Roach argued that he didn’t qualify for the degree and that he still planned on taking that course, but the school told him it was his.
“I walked with no problems whatsoever, but I still haven’t completed that one class,” Roach said, who now does not plan to take the class.
Both Roach and Sarvis say the degrees have affected their financial aid status, but Padilla said federal aid runs out only when a student has reached a maximum number of credit hours, or when they obtain degrees.
Sarvis, who began as a liberal arts major but changed her major to biology, said she is concerned that her new degrees could mean she will not qualify for other forms of aid. She plans on transferring to UNM next year.
“There are a lot of scholarships out there that require that you don’t have a degree. Some of our students might very well be applying for those scholarships and now they can’t,” said Sarvis, who is president of the CNM Executive Council of Students.