Registration Rave

Community colleges seeking to serve working adults hold all-night parties to let students register on their own schedule.
August 16, 2006

Sandy Saldana, dean of student success at Morton College, outside Chicago, is at work a little late.

It’s 11 p.m. on Friday night, but she’s still gaining steam. “This is unbelievable,” she said. “It’s like somebody turned on a faucet.”

And out poured hundreds of people to register for courses at Morton. Perhaps they heard Saldana on local radio advertising the event, or maybe they saw the signs up on local streets. Then again, maybe they just came to check out the search lights sweeping through the sky. “We’ve had maybe 500 people,” Saldana said. “We’re thinking this is our highest enrollment day ever.” And there are still 14 hours to go, until the rave ends on August 12.

It’s Morton’s round-the-clock “registration rave.” Some people are there for the music or the Sno-Cones, some so their kids can play the carnival games, and others to take placement tests and meet with academic advisers.

Brent Knight, president of Morton College, didn’t get the inspiration for the 24-hour -- or 29-hour, in this case -- registration days from his experience in higher education.

Knight used to work as vice president of Meijer Inc., a “big-box” retailer in the Midwest; like a “super Target,” as Knight puts it. “They were open 24-hours,” Knight said, “and they were busy at midnight. It’s about being customer-service oriented to meet the needs of students.” And many prospective Morton students need registration and advising -- all bilingual for the town of Cicero’s large Hispanic population -- at hours that don’t interfere with work or family obligations. “We’re not the water department, we’re service oriented,” Knight added.

Knight first organized an all-night registration in 2001 at Baton Rouge Community College, where he was vice chancellor.

Edwin Litolff, then director of enrollment services at Baton Rouge, said that his first reaction to Knight’s idea was that “it was just a political stunt. We’d get some press out of it and that would be it.”

Litolff, now associate vice president of institutional research and enrollment management for the University of Louisiana System, said he changed his mind when a man who got off work at a casino at 2 a.m. came by to register. “We advised him, and then he registered,” Litolff said. “Then I said, ‘it serves a need.’”

Baton Rouge started using all-night registration every semester. Litolff said that some people who hadn’t taken classes for years felt comfortable stopping by in the wee hours for advising, because they didn’t have to wait in line, and weren’t rushed.

Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College, the largest community college in Ohio, talked with Knight at a conference and decided to try the all-night registration last year.

“We have a lot of waiters and waitresses,” Thornton said, many of whom can have a spouse take care of the child at night so they can register. “It was an acknowledgement of our students’ needs and lifestyles. More and more people are not 9-5 people.”

Like Ray Garcia, 33, who works in information technology, and, as he worked with an academic adviser at Morton around 10:30 p.m., said that he needed to be able to get advising about computer science courses without having to guess how long the line might be. With plenty of Morton employees volunteering for over-night service, Garcia got what he needed. “I feel welcome,” he said. It probably didn’t hurt that he won White Sox tickets in a raffle that night.

Beatrice Martinez, 29, graduated from Morton in 1999 and went on to the University of Illinois at Chicago. She’s had children since then, so she showed up late on the night of the registration rave to sign up for the first aid classes she wanted to take.

For Saldana, there was something else special happening beyond just registration. She looked around at over a dozen administrators as midnight neared. Some of them, she said, were hugging each other. “When does this happen in higher ed?” she asked.


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