by Nicole Howley | published Apr. 22nd, 2013
“Generally registration has gone pretty smoothly. I mean obviously I don’t always get all the classes that I want or that I need. But just the biggest thing was that they didn’t offer the class I needed this quarter and since it’s a prerequisite to the other ones, that just caused issues,” explained second year Packaging Science major Morgan Moak.
In a random survey of students asked about their registration in the past, some students expressed similar feelings about registration: they don’t always get the class section they wanted and sometimes it can be more difficult to get into classes outside of their major. But all of the students surveyed said that they could get into a course section that worked for them eventually.
Moak transferred into the Packaging Science program in the fall after a year as a Photography major. Even with a switch in program and the transition to the semester system, she was supposed to be able to graduate on time. However, due to a prerequisite course she needed to take this quarter being canceled, she was told that she would need to stay at RIT for an additional semester.
In order to avoid situations like this, RIT works at the general and individual level to make sure that students have access to the classes they need. Recently, time and effort spent on this work has intensified with the looming transition into semesters. With new plans in place to measure what changes need to be, all are hoping that the process will be as smooth as possible.
“It’s a balancing act,” says Jacqueline Reynolds Mozrall, associate dean and professor in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. Registering for classes can be a balancing act for students who have to mix and match the courses in their schedules until they have a good combination of the classes they need with the classes they want at the times that fit. However, Mozrall was referring to the people who come up with the available courses and sessions who have to weigh several factors in their scheduling decisions as well.
“It would be irresponsible of the university to have multitudes of sections of courses with two or three students in them. It would be irresponsible of us to use your tuition dollars to not fill these classes but at the same time you want to make sure that you have enough classes to fill the needs of the student,” says Mozrall. “So there’s that balancing act of making sure you have enough sections but not too many sections. It’s balancing that supply and demand and trying to do it in the most optimum way.”
Mozrall’s college has a scheduling officer in charge of finding this balance while setting up what courses the college will offer. The people within the departments of the college send the scheduling officer information such as which courses need to be offered, how long each session needs to be, if the class requires a lab or a certain type of classroom and the number of students within their department who need to take the class. Then, from this information, the department can determine how many sessions they need to offer for each course.
When scheduling courses, figuring out class sizes and determining the number of sessions, “One of our restraints is our classrooms,” explains Joe Loffredo, RIT’s registrar. “There are only so many classrooms that can hold large numbers of students.”
Mozrall also commented that the course determination process differs by college due to their different audiences. “In liberal arts, they are serving all the students in the university where as, in engineering, we are primarily serving engineering students,” says Mozrall. “We don’t offer a bunch of classes that students from other programs or degrees from across the university are going to want to take like liberal arts or the College of Science. So the process is a little bit different.” For instance, the departments within the College of Engineering only have to take into consideration the students within their majors when determining how many seats to offer. The College of Liberal Arts, on the other hand, has to determine how many seats to offer based on the number of people throughout all the majors at RIT that might need to take their courses.
The process for determining course schedules has also shifted due to the semester conversion. But luckily, the university as a whole has planned far in advance. Courses were proposed for New York State Approval about three years ago and then a committee with representatives from all of the colleges began meeting over a year and a half ago to begin discussing course and scheduling specifics. Scheduling for semesters was quite different from scheduling for the quarter system. “With semesters, everything was brand new: new courses, new requirements,” says Loffredo.
However, the advance planning is not something new to the colleges. “The planning process for scheduling is done way before students register,” says Mozrall. “But still, you try to predict how many students will be in the class.”
Once registration hits, if more students need the class than the colleges predicted, the college may look for a bigger room to keep the class in to create more seats. If that isn’t the most effective decision or not an available option, then the college might open another section of the course instead. As Mozrall explains, “If we know that there are more students that need the class, we do whatever we can to create more to teach another class instead. When students have slightly different course plans due to factors such as changing majors, it can be more difficult for the colleges and departments to include all the necessary classes for them in the general course plans which, for the semester transition, were arranged by year level. But that’s why the colleges have arranged for individualized planning to take place as well.
“There was an overall, generic plan but you know as a student here that everyone follows a slightly different plan,” said Mozrall. “Not everyone follows the same thing so that’s where the Individualizing plan came in.”
This registration period, every student was required to meet with their advisor for an Individual Advising Plan (IAP). The advising practices implemented during these meetings have also been in development over the course of the semester transition planning in order to make this registration period as smooth as possible. But there are many factors that advisors now have to take into account, some of which were not as prominent before.
For instance, Loffredo explains that, “Another big change that we are implementing is, in the past we have never had the [Student Information System] enforce prerequisites, and that’s new for this fall too.” This change is meant to help make sure that the students taking the class are qualified and to leave seats open in the class for students who are.
However, for Moak, this reinforcement of prerequisites posed a problem since the class she couldn’t take this quarter is one that she needs as a prerequisite for other required classes.
This is an important factor for others to consider as well. Lawrence R. Contero, an academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts, advises students from all majors about their liberal arts requirements and concentrations. He explained that in quarters, before the reinforcement of semesters, some of the concentrations would allow or require the students to take upper level courses. Now concentrations are made up of three courses but some of the upper level courses may require the student to take a foundation course too. This means that some concentrations might end up including four or five courses instead. “Not every single concentration is only going to be a minimum of three courses. Because it is a specific concentration, it might add up to one or two extra courses involved in it,” says Contero.
Contero also mentioned his advising of third or fourth year students who need to take their liberal arts courses still might not find room in their schedules. “On occasions, depending on their circumstances, we do make exceptions for them, and we might occasionally substitute a course but it depends on the student’s circumstance and where they are falling in here at RIT at that time,” explains Contero.
But first Contero assesses all the options. When a student can’t find the course they need, Contero first asks if they have looked at all of the other options. Then if there is a course that interests them and still fills the requirement, it could serve as a substitute.
Moak later met with her advisor in order to discus additional options and possible substitutes for her class too. She thought about taking a summer course at a community college but due to the specific material covered in the class offered at RIT, her advisor told her that it would be a difficult class to replace. Her advisor did try to comfort her with the information that she would not have to pay tuition while on co-op. She also gave her an additional option: “She said what I can do is I can just overload on credits for one semester that I have left and then that way, I will still be able to graduate when I was supposed to and still do co-op. The meeting went kind of well. It was better than I expected.”
And Mozrall explains that if an advisor has a student with a unique situation, “They can ask the department head or another faculty member … so then as a team, we figure out what to do.”
Although there might be some hiccups in registration this quarter, especially with the semester transition, there are people at every level of RIT trying to make sure that everyone gets into the classes they need.
As far as Moak’s situation, she feels “like it’s not something that’s going to continue to happen. I think, just because of the switch of going from quarters to semesters, that it’s a problem now. But I think once we’ve adapted to semesters, everything is going to flow a lot smoother.”
Loffredo believes that the system will only get better too especially since they have from now until the end of summer to make even more corrections and changes to the system: “The good thing is we have some time to react.”
But for this week and next, “Students will enroll for fall, our first semester,” says Loffredo. “And… it’s going to be interesting.”
“The next two years here — two and a half — will be able to let me know if things will get better or not,” says Moak. With time, we will be able to figure out if the classes for semesters fit together as well as, or better than, the quarter system.