OLR is useful to faculty, students
For Carnegie Mellon students, course registration week is one of the most stressful times in the school year. Like taking an exam or giving a final presentation, registering for classes has a large impact on a student’s future.
To ensure fairness and that students graduate on time, the university’s administration has implemented several policies to help out.
The university’s most important decision seems to be that students register in order of seniority.
“Long time registration policy has been that students register by class level — seniors and graduate students, then juniors, sophomores, and freshmen,” University Registrar John Papinchak said in an email.
Typically, each class level registers on a particular day, and within a particular class level, students are assigned specific registration start times based on their student identification numbers.
“When we developed On-Line Registration in 1997, we determined that we needed to spread students out in time blocks so that the application (and servers) could handle the demand,” Papinchak said. “We developed a strategy that places students into four broad groupings and five time assignments within those groups.”
Even though it puts them at a disadvantage, some first-years understand why seniority is an appropriate measure of priority. “I do think it’s fair to let upperclassmen all register first, because they have less time left to take the classes,” said first-year computer science major Jennine Nash.
First-year computer science major Steven Klee agreed, saying, “If we don’t get the classes we want, we can always take them next semester, but [seniors] can’t.”
However, a consequence of this system is that first-years and sophomores may find some of their departments’ required classes filled with seniors and juniors from other departments who got to register earlier.
“Because of the way students get to schedule, it’s often the case where somebody elsewhere on campus has been allowed to schedule ahead of our business students,” said associate teaching professor Evelyn Pierce, who teaches the Business Presentations course, which is required for all students majoring in business administration.
“[Students from other departments] should not get into the class until all of our students in business have been able to get in,” she added.
To ensure that all students find space in their required courses regardless of registration start times, the administration imposes quotas on students from certain departments.
For example, there are several slots in most computer science classes that are reserved for computer science students.
“It’s important that we have these reserved spots so that we can graduate,” Klee said.
The disadvantage, however, is that students have a much harder time getting into classes that are not in their home department. “I’m currently on the wait list for several of my classes in CFA,” said senior psychology major Brianna Kent. “I wish that the professor would up the number of spots not reserved for art students.”
“When students register, some course sections will automatically place them onto the waiting list,” Papinchak said. “This depends upon whether the course-section is full, or it has reservations — based upon students’ home college, department, and class.”
However, from assistant teaching professor Geoffrey Hitch’s perspective, the problem is that there are too many students for too small a class size, and manipulating quotas does not address this issue.
“There are only so many ways to cut from the same pie,” said Hitch, who teaches the popular Business Acting class, which currently has a wait list of more than double its class size.
The obvious solution would seem to be to increase class sizes, but professors point out that this takes away from the learning experience.
“Every additional student decreases the amount of time we have per student,” Pierce said. “It’s hard for some students to understand that.... But it’s not to their advantage if we let everyone in who needed it. Otherwise, we might end up in a situation where everyone stands up and gives a 30 second presentation.”
Instead, professors like Pierce and Hitch often push for additional sections.
“If I take more than 20, I’m going to hurt the class. But now that I have two sections, I can teach 40,” Hitch said. “At the end of every semester I write to the undergrad business administration and ask if we can have additional sections next year.”
But Pierce pointed out that the administration is often reluctant to add additional sections because of the financial costs. “All the faculty are hired from the teaching track, and we are paid per section,” she explained.
“We have this amount of money, and how do we want to maximize it in so many ways? So when it comes to communications classes, how many sections can we have in a semester without it becoming too expensive to hire faculty?”
While the system isn’t perfect, professors and students are still relatively satisfied with it. “There is no 100 percent ideal way, but this system is the best we know,” Pierce said.