A Desperate Student's Craigslist Posting?

June 7, 2010

Everyone at Columbia Basin College is talking about a Craigslist posting -- and it's not even lewd.

In fact, it's not even clear that the statement in the posting is true, although officials at the Washington State community college say that it is quite true as a sign of the times. The listing (since removed from Craigslist, but provided in screenshot form to Inside Higher Ed by the college) says (spelling and punctuation verbatim): "so I heard that some people are registering for classes that are in high demand to sell their spots in them, and biology 160 is one of those classes. my roommate and i need into that class summer quarter so if anyone is currently enrolled in any of the bio 160 classes for SUMMER QUARTER and is willing to sell their spot on it or knows of anyone that is please please please let me know ASAP."

Whoever posted the ad did not respond to e-mail messages from Inside Higher Ed. And the college doesn't know who put it up or whether students are in fact selling their spots in courses. But courses are at capacity, and because of the way the institution handles registration, a scheme like this could work (and might have already worked).

Frank Murray, a spokesman for the college, explained that it did away with waiting lists a few years ago, because students were registering for too many courses, and getting on too many more waiting lists, and registration had become hard to manage. Now, once a course reaches capacity, no waiting list is used, but when someone drops out (through the college's Web site), someone who knew when that was going to take place could quickly grab the spot. This happens all the time, and Murray said that the college wasn't aware of the Craigslist ad until a local newspaper, The Tri-City Herald, wrote about it -- and that the scheme could well have worked by then. Shortly after the article ran, the ad disappeared.

Biology 160 is a course that students are indeed anxious to get into, Murray said. It is a general biology course with a lab, and is part of required sequences for health professions programs such as nursing, dental hygiene, physical and occupational therapy, and paramedic training -- all popular programs because the graduates have great job prospects.

The college has one classroom that can seat 120, and most seat only 40, Murray said. Instructors have been so concerned about turning students away that they have been letting some students stay in oversubscribed courses and sit in the aisles, but the college has had to be careful not to violate fire codes, so courses have indeed been closed, and whenever someone drops out, the spot is taken "within minutes." If any of that is due to selling of spots, he said that the college was "unaware" and certainly didn't encourage it.

Gwendolyn James, an assistant professor of English at the college, said she doubted that the posting was real. "It's true that demand for courses is going to continue to increase, but if you really think about it, students who are far enough along in their programs that they need very specific courses in a certain sequence in a given semester usually get to register ahead of everyone else because they have acquired more credits," she said via e-mail. "I suspect the Craigslist ad was probably generated by someone hoping to spawn some public outrage over the class cuts at CBC."

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said he has never heard of students paying others to drop courses, but he said that on some level, he was not surprised. "This is proof that rationing naturally creates a black market for the thing rationed," he said.

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