Don’t fear UT’s auto-graduation system

Spencer Buckner

When The Daily Texan talked to Dr. Cassandre Alvarado and Quynhanh Tran about the University’s new auto-graduation process two months ago, the result was an article that ultimately scared scores of uninformed Longhorns, including myself. Accusations of the University stealthily graduating students against their will and taking away their hard-earned internships and financial aid abounded.

I talked again to Alvarado, director of Student Success and Graduation Initiatives, and Tran, Plan II, government and economics junior, about auto-graduation earlier this week. What was originally intended to be an article further exposing the injustices of the program quickly shifted into one defending a misunderstood program.

So what exactly is auto-graduation, and why was it introduced in the first place? Alvarado, one of the program’s architects, explained that each year before auto-graduation was instated, 2 percent of UT graduates left the University without ever actually getting their degree — walking at graduation, but simply forgetting to fill out simple paperwork that conferred upon them their degree. The result? Alvarado notes that Student Success Initiatives found that “there are students wandering around who think they graduated” from UT yet never had their degree conferred, students the University is now trying to reach to officially graduate.

When put in context, the need for an auto-graduation program makes perfect sense. By eliminating the crucial paperwork and instead automatically enrolling students for graduation, the University ensures that Longhorns actually graduate when they think they do. So what is the issue?

Tran argued that poor communication from SSI staff has caused Longhorns to become confused and ultimately worried about how auto-graduation could affect their financial aid, internships and class schedules. It’s not hard to see why this happened. Upon the rollout of auto-graduation, the SSI opted to not advertise the new auto-graduation process, seeing it as a simple fix to a relatively small-scale problem.

Alvarado admitted, however, that “some of the anxiety around communication has been from students who are uncertain what the policy is intended to do and are worried that the procedure will keep them from doing what they want to do.” This resulting anxiety against what in reality is a benign and well-intentioned program proves that the SSI’s strategy was a miscalculation.

“We shouldn’t have to be cleaning up this mess,” Tran said, referencing the legislation she is currently working on with the Liberal Arts Council to increase communication with current Longhorns about auto-graduation. And why should they have to? It is, after all, the University’s problem that the program’s unveiling went awry. Luckily, the University is already one step ahead of them.

Listening to Longhorns’ anxiety,  Alvarado and the SSI have been working to increase communication about the program. “We’ve done an education tour with the various colleges and schools, with the associate and assistant deans, and with academic advisors to help explain (auto-graduation),” Alvarado explained. And if auto-graduation does threaten a student’s financial aid or internship? Alvarado notes that every student notified about auto-graduation is also given a link to appeal so that they can be removed from the process. In fact, students who are concerned about how auto-graduation could affect them are encouraged to appeal to ensure that they won’t be harmed by the process.

The auto-graduation initiative at UT may not have had the smoothest unveiling, or the best PR. Taking a step back, however, and noting the changes currently being made, it’s clear the University isn’t trying to punish anyone by ensuring they get the degree they earned. So before communication about the program is fixed, educate yourself about auto-graduation. Like me, you’ll find you have less to fear than you originally thought.

Buckner is a Plan II and government freshman from Austin.