New graduate application process stirs faculty concern


Shane Buchanan

A new system for graduate school applications has created concerns among faculty.

By Aimee Ryan, New Mexico State University

Department heads and program coordinators of several graduate programs at New Mexico State University have made complaints about SLATE, a system adopted by NMSU’s graduate school last academic year. The program serves as a portal for prospective graduate students to apply to programs and for faculty to access applications.

Sociology Department’s Directorof Graduate Studies Julie Steinkopf sent an email to a list serve of NMSU faculty expressinghow serious she believes the issues with the graduate application system are.

“I’ve been talking withcolleaguesacross the university about grad school admission issues. The more I learn, the more horrified I am. I think that this is such a serious issue thatthat faculty [in the graduate school] ought to know the problems grad directors are having as it impactsfaculty, too,” Steinkopf said.

NMSUoffers 106 graduate programs in total, including traditionalface-to-face, online andhybridprograms.

Concerns were addressed at a meeting Jan. 30 in the Corbett Center Student Union Senate Chambers, hosted by Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School. Faculty members LuisVásquezand Denise Esquibel from the Graduate School were also in attendance to answer questions.

Issues with the SLATE system, voicedby program directors, included applications missingletters of recommendations or PDFs missing pages,applicants beingcharged more than once for the same application fee and graduation applications pertaining to one department being sent to a different department.

The Graduate Schoolproposedasolution to combat the technicalissues in SLATE. First,an email would be sent to all graduate program directors that would grant them access to sign into SLATE following the meeting. Then, starting Feb. 10, the graduate school would host two-hour SLATE training by each college.

Esquibel said that completing the training is mandatory for program directors to be able to view their respective applications.

Different graduateprograms at NMSU require different applications, with the earliest programs requiring submissions bySept. 15 to March 15.SLATE became available to access at the university beginning Sept. 15.

Psychology Department HeadDominic Simon said the department has been unable to access completedgraduateapplicationsand as a result,he is two months behindon viewing and accepting applications in comparisonto NMSU’s neighboring university,the University of Texas at El Paso.

“We havean application deadline of Jan. 15. My understanding is that UTEP’s equivalent department hasone of Dec. r15. So, if we wait for what is now Feb. 15 — because we’re a in a position where we don’t havePDFs, I don’t have access to SLATE — I’m now in a positionwhere I’m now two months behind from NMSU’s geographical competitor. You’ve [the graduate school] been trying to get us to be competitiveby accepting the best graduate students,” Simon said.

FollowingSimon’s remark, other program directorsin the room maderemarksin unison that described frustration with being unableto navigate SLATE.Rani Alexander, anthropology department head, said she fears that being charged multiple application feeswill deter applicants from choosing NMSU for graduate school.

“Whenever a graduate student encountersan additional fee, it stops them cold.So,we’re not askingfor changes to the requirements, we’re just asking that the requirementsthat we set up with you [graduate school]in the summeractually work,” Alexandersaid.

In response to Alexender’s comment, Esquibel, assistantdeanof graduate academic affairs,said directors should make an appointment with the Graduate School when they run into issues.

“If thereare things that arenot working as you had set up in the beginning, this is where we need to have a conversation. Make an appointment with me — let’s sit downandthen I will take it because I do not make changes in my office,”Esquibel said.

Vásquez said he realized that experiencing issues with SLATE has been difficult for both the Graduate School and graduate directors, as hehas served as a department head, associate professor and professor at NMSU prior tohis current position as associate vice president for research and graduate studies.

“I do want to validate that at times, it has been frustrating from both sides. I’vebeen on the other side and I’ve also been a director of training programs,”Vásquezsaid.

Cifuentes noted thatNMSU’s graduate enrollment forthe upcoming school yearwill not be affected.

“My conclusion is that whatever it is that we’re doing,the transition [to SLATE] did not have a major negative impact on enrollment.In fact, we are up over the last year, so that’s good. And keep in mind that these new enrollees, 204, went through SLATE,” Cifuentes said.

This story was originally published on NMSU Round Up on February 4, 2020.