You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Ithaca college students attend class

This fall, all incoming students at Ithaca College were preregistered for fall classes, creating equitable opportunities for course selection and easing student anxieties.

Allison Usavage/Ithaca College

Course registration is a critical piece of the academic experience, but often students see it as stressful and frustrating.

A spring 2023 Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found one in three students says a class they need to graduate has filled up prior to being able to register or that they have been unable to register in a course because it wasn’t offered the semester they wanted to take it. Other common registration concerns include GPA requirements, special permissions needed, a lack of advising on required course or a financial, advising or institutional hold.

The survey also found nearly half of students haven’t been advised on courses and course sequences required for graduation, but fewer than half say they have not been advised on degree progress to be on track to graduate.

To close equity gaps and make the transition to college simpler for students, Ithaca College in New York has implemented preregistration for all incoming students this fall. The measures of success: less stress and increased communication around required courses and course sequences.

The background: In the past, Ithaca would host a two-and-a-half-day summer orientation for students, inviting them to campus to attend sessions as well as meet with faculty advisers to register and create their fall schedules. The college moved away from this model in 2019 because it was costly for the institution and created inequities for students who couldn’t come to campus early for a variety of reasons.

The new model required students to complete self-paced orientation modules on their own time via the LMS, with one of the modules explaining course registration. Students would then register for their own courses by themselves.

Ithaca is a comprehensive college with five schools that operate “semiautonomously,” each with its own dean, office and academic advising procedures, including registration.

However, each first-year student takes an Ithaca Seminar, a four-credit course completed in the first semester and housed in the School of Humanities and Sciences, which creates additional challenges with registering students. The course can also fulfill a writing requirement for students, depending on the topic, but not every student needs to complete the writing requirement if they’re entering with credits.

What’s the need: This past year showed the greatest gaps in the system, says Stacia Zabusky, associate provost for academic programs, with deans’ offices getting numerous calls from frustrated students—and their parents—when they couldn’t enroll in courses for a variety of reasons. The president and provost also received negative feedback about the process.

Those most impacted by the process included low-income and first-generation students who might not have someone at home to help them, as well. Other students received an overabundance of support from parents, who enrolled them directly, also defeating the purpose of offering educational modules on registration, Zabusky says.

It’s the role of an academic adviser to weigh the balance of student autonomy and choice versus anxiety and confusion, Zabusky says, but this present group of students seems more inclined to value ease and access. The student success team was worried a negative experience from the start would impact retention and engagement, and therefore they decided to preregister students.

Staff piloted the model in fall 2022 and rolled out a more complete model to students this fall.

Crafting a solution: For this year, incoming students completed an academic interests survey in June, which provided staff with details on the subjects, issues and themes that are important to each learner. The survey also allowed students to rank their top three choices for their first-year seminar.

A group of staff from the Center for Student Success and various academic services coordinators from each college met to individually craft student schedules by hand. Staff in the appropriate dean’s office first selected major courses, and then the team slotted a seminar course and electives based on survey responses.

Staff did their best to honor student choices for the seminar, because faculty members were worried students would be less engaged if they were randomly assigned to a seminar. Only about one in four students had picked a specific seminar course section, which Zabusky theorizes is due to a large number of offerings (64 courses and sections), each with its own description to read through.

Students received their schedules in mid-July and could make changes later that month through the add-drop period.

The impact: Negative communication about registration dropped off dramatically, with few to no phone calls or emails from upset students or families coming in during the summer or fall.

Of the 24 percent of students who selected a specific seminar section, 74 percent were placed in a section of their choice. Over 95 percent of students received a seminar assignment that related to their interests or first choices, Zabusky says.

During summer 2022, 43 percent of students registered for a seminar and 61 percent of students revised their schedules between orientation and the add-drop period. This fall, only 25 percent of students modified their schedules during that period, and 13 percent changed their seminar assignment.

Next steps: Because the college is still in the middle of the term, it’s hard to tell how much of an impact the preregistration process has had. College officials will track F and W rates among seminars, as well as retention from fall to spring, for some context.

For next fall, IT will assist in building a dashboard for staff to unify survey information with course information, because those systems were previously separate and disconnected, which reduced efficiency.

The academic interest survey will also be modified to collect better data to aid advisers in the course selection process.

Seeking stories from campus leaders, faculty members and staff for our Student Success focus. Share here.

Next Story

Found In

More from Academic Life