August 23, 2012

Frustrating Trip to the College of Southern Idaho

College of Southern Idaho
I've blogged before about me going back to college thanks to the Veteran's Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP).  Monday my wife and I traveled to Twin Falls so I could get my ID card and pick up my school books for the upcoming semester.  While I was there I thought I'd try to take the computer equivalency test so I wouldn't have to take an entry-level computer course.

It is a two hour drive down to Twin and I figured an hour or two tops for the ID and books and the same for the testing.

Of course "everything" was Tango-Uniform and our time there was doubled thanks to a bunch of utter BS.

Getting to the campus and finding our way to the administration building was easy enough.  There was basically one place you had to check in before being able to do about anything with the administration and that line wasn't too long.  When I get my ID card I'm told there was a problem with my financial aid.

Problem?  There shouldn't be any problem.  CSI has a whole system devoted to student financial aid and I've been checking it on an almost daily basis.  I've filled out each and every piece of paperwork requested.  The system shows I'm all set.  What the hell could be the issue?

Evidently because I'm a "first-time" borrower there is some school form that I have to initial and sign.  This form is located at the financial aid desk and has to be hand-carried the ten feet over to the registration desk.

Seriously?!  You have got to be fucking kidding me.  There is an entire paperwork system already in place with notifications, paperwork downloads, form submissions....the whole works.  Instead I have to drive down two hours to walk a slip of paper (about 5.5" x 8.5") ten fricken feet!?  This all-important form is basically just a read & sign where I have to acknowledge they are going to keep my financial aid money for an extra month since I'm "new".  This kind of information dump would be the perfect kind of thing to put on some sort of information system that the student has to interact the website of the CSI "Online Financial Aid System".

College of Southern Idaho Veterans Services

Unfortunately this was just the beginning.  Once the crucial piece of paper was escorted a one-second walk away I decided to check in with the Veteran Services section of the administration, more as a courtesy than anything.  I had already filled out the required paperwork over a month ago.  Shortly after checking in there I was told they hadn't certified my classes yet.

Excuse me?!  I was told that was being done four weeks ago.  Evidently there was a "problem" with my classes.  They wouldn't certify my course-load because not every class I was taking was required for my major.  Didn't I get the email?

I came close to needing thisYes, I got your email, and I responded less than an hour later.  I was signed up for 15 credit hours.  12 credits, the magic number I needed for certification as full-time, were in courses listed for my major.  The final course was an "extra" course which shouldn't count BUT it was a pre-requisite for an approved elective course I planned on taking in the spring.  I know they had received my email because I could see a copy of it in the papers they were trying to show me.  Instead of doing anything with the information I had given them, these folks decided to just sit on the papers until when?  Until I wasn't getting paid and I called to find out why......when it would have been too late to do anything?

Evidently the "problem" was that I actually followed the established procedures for enrolling at CSI.  Once accepted as a student I had my transcripts from all my other schools sent in.  The "problem" was that there were only 16 specific credits (classes) that I needed to graduate.  I was only enrolled in 10 credits that were on the list.  The other two classes (three credits each) have pre-requisites I'm taking now.  Now I'm enrolled in a new program and the first thing I did was ask to see where there instructions for certifying my classes showed that I HAD to be taking ONLY classes required to graduate.  Instructions specific to this new VRAP.  They couldn't and the best that they could offer was for me to call some guy back in Boise.

Now I'm just a little more than pissed right now.  The problem is essentially that I've already gone to school?  If you look at the requirements for entry into VRAP, the most two likely groups of people would be those that never got education benefits (didn't pay into them, odd loopholes, etc.) or those that had already used all their benefits up.  This program was supposed to be helping me go to school, not acting as a barrier.  I had up to 12 months of benefits I am entitled to.  I know the program isn't going to be requiring me to actually finish my education, and I'm already taking every class that I can towards my degree.

Now I realize that the folks at Veterans Services are just trying to do their job and more than likely they have faulty instructions, or possibly no instructions since this is a brand-new program.  They are doing as I would and try to apply rules for the other programs.  I also know that there is always a way to make things work.  Right off the bat I could think of several ways to fix this problem.  Several involve elevating the issue up the food chain and one is to simply take away some of my transfer credits.  I'm told they cannot do that.  Of course, you cannot do that, but somebody somewhere can.  Change my graduation requirements.  "I cannot do that." Of course, you cannot do that, but it can be done.  Boise State did it to me to screw me out of course credits when I discovered a loophole, so I know it can be done.

I'm asked to give them some time so they can get in touch with the VA.  Their point of contact is travelling and they need to get him to answer his voicemail.  Fine, I'll go take my computer exams.

College Southern Idaho Testing Center
Carolyn and I head on over to the library where the testing center is.  When I try to sign up for the exam I'm asked if I had read the informational booklet, because all students are supposed to read the booklet before taking the exams.  No I had not.  Instead I had read the CSI website that had all the information regarding the testing center and the computer literacy exams.  There was no mention of this booklet, but I was aware that the testing center had been remodeled and just opened the day before.  Again, this was just the kind of thing that should be on the WEBSITE!  Now there is a rack of these booklets just outside the door to the testing center, but not any signage along the lines of "read this dumbass".  The lady I'm speaking to at the testing center desk tells me the test should take 3-4 hours and there are five separate exams.  The school will only pay for the first six tests and these tests are very difficult.

Thank God it wasn't the 2007 version!
I try to assure her that I'm not exactly concerned since I've taken these kinds of test before (tested out of Word and Excel at BSU) and I know my way around they software.  Of course I realize that what I'm telling her has probably been said by every idiot who thinks that because they read something on the interwebs once and used email once a month ago they think they can ace these exams.  There are five exams: general internet, email, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  The MS Office programs are the 2010 versions.

She was right about one thing, the tests were hard, but not necessarily for the reasons you would expect.  The tests required a 70 to pass and my scores ranged from 84 to 92, but the whole time I took the tests I thought I was failing.  These exams were obviously written in-house and whomever wrote the questions did a terrible job.  Many questions were worded poorly and in the case of some of the MS Office exams there was more than one way to perform a task.  The exam tracks your mouse clicks and keystrokes & if they wanted you to reference a cell in Excel by clicking on it and you typed in the cell reference, maybe as an absolute reference, you would get dinged.  Other questions were simply a matter of following directions.  They'd want you to apply a specific named effect and they'd tell you not only where to find the effect, but how many rows down or columns over you could find the specific effect in the matrix of possible selections.

It was a frustrating experience that took me a little over two hours to complete.  Then it was back to the folks at the Veterans Services.

My list of "asses to kick" was getting too large for me to handle
They weren't able to get in touch with "the guy", but they did give me his number and suggested I try to contact him in a couple of days.  I know they were trying to be helpful, but all I heard was, "Fuck Off".  There was no way I was driving home without having this matter resolved.  I was passed off to a supervisor who basically told me the same line, that there was nothing to do.  I asked how this program was supposed to help Veterans attended school because unless your courseload fit perfectly into 12 credit hour blocks you were going to get boned.  How am I supposed to attend classes in the spring?  What if I only transferred in needing 10 credits?  If only classes listed on my major are allowed, what if I did only need 12 credits and could take them all.....the school requires my final 15 credits be from their institution.

He went off to talk to some folks and when he got back he called on of my professors and got permission to take one of my spring courses and take it concurrently with its pre-requisite.  I dropped two courses I wouldn't need know because of my recent test results, and my new courseload is 16 credits for this semester.  I can handle that.  I don't know what we are going to do come next semester, but I have a couple of months to get that issue squared away.

I'm hoping that the VA will just let me switch majors and I can pick up the last class for the Library Sciences as the last three credits of a 15 credit load.  We will have to see.

Now that my schedule was fixed I was able to get my schoolbooks, visit briefly with my actual student adviser (the professor who was letting me take the course early), and get the hell out of Twin. Carolyn and I did stop to eat on the way home, but we didn't get back until after 8 PM, making it between an 11 and 12 hour day full of frustration.

At least I'll be ready for class come Monday.....

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