More than a month after commencement, advising error sends 17 Pitt teaching students back to class


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The halls outside the School of Education on the fifth floor of Wesley W. Posvar Hall.

By Jack Troy, Senior Staff Writer

After four years of taking classes at Pitt, Delphie Backs was ready to move onto the next phase of her life. 

Backs, a senior in the Combined Accelerated Studies in Education program, had walked across the commencement stage on April 30, taken a full-time job at the Carnegie Science Center and signed a lease outside of Oakland. 

But on June 6, an email from the University came — she hadn’t graduated, after all. 

At least 16 other students in the CASE program, a dual-certification, dual-degree program in the School of Education, received the same message. Some are just one class shy of completing the degrees they thought they had earned in the spring, while others, like Backs, need up to 18 additional credits. 

“I was just very ready to move past college,” Backs said. “I’m going to be sitting in class with my blood boiling.”

These students say their advisers waived a number of prerequisites when they entered the program, only to later find out they had fallen short of Pennsylvania’s teacher certification standards. 

“The University deeply regrets this situation and is in the process of investigating how this occurred and the steps to take to ensure it does not happen again,” Pitt spokesperson Jared Stonesifer said. “The School of Education proactively identified this issue recently and, since that time, has worked diligently to ensure that all impacted students are properly prepared for the certificates they are pursuing”

The CASE program allows students to obtain teaching certifications on an accelerated timeline. Emma Morganstein, another senior affected by the advising error, said she enrolled in Pitt because of the “great things” she had heard about the program. 

“We’re all future teachers. We’re passionate about education. It’s not like we’ve just gone along without advocating for ourselves,” Morganstein said. 

Students can apply for the CASE program as juniors, starting on a track to receive a Bachelor of Science in Applied Developmental Psychology. To be accepted, they must have 55 general education credits in arts and sciences plus six credits of introductory education courses. 

Upon completion of an optional fifth year of graduate studies, which includes two full-time student teaching experiences, students can become certified as elementary or special education teachers. 

Pitt declined to comment on whether past cohorts have graduated from the CASE program with missing prerequisites. 

While Pitt has agreed to cover tuition for any additional coursework, Jennifer Espinoza, one of the impacted graduate students, said the University needs to be doing more to remediate the situation. 

“I appreciate that they’re making that effort, but the principle of them withholding our diploma a month after we graduated and letting us into the program with these incomplete requirements, that’s a form of trust and responsibility that simply paying for the courses can’t fix,” Espinoza said. 

Espinoza would like Pitt to offer a public apology, provide funds for room and board as well as compensate these students for emotional damages. 

“I’m a first-generation student. There was a lot of pride and accomplishment about me graduating,” Espinoza said. “I don’t want to tell my parents yet until we get the solutions that we want and not the solutions that the School of Education is telling us that we want.”

Morganstein said the impact of Pitt’s mistake could extend beyond lost time and earnings. She’s concerned that any irregularities in her transcript could give pause to future employers. 

“We’re going to be going up against other qualified teachers to get these teaching positions,” Morganstein said. “We don’t want there to be any sort of barriers to getting that.”