The Arizona Desert Lamp

Registration reform and its unintended consequences

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 23 February 2009

The proposed plans to free up class space at the very least have some merit to them. The details of the plan, with some extra snarky scare quotes to spice it up, from the Wildcat:

Under the proposed policy, undergraduates wishing to attain the next higher classification will need to have completed a minimum of 30 units for sophomore standing, 60 units for junior standing, and 90 units for senior standing.

In the old class standing policy, students needed to have the same numbers of unit “in progress”. The catch with the new policy is that the units need to be “earned” by registration time.

According to the proposal to change class standing and classification submitted last April by Jerry Hogle, interim vice president for instruction, “there is evidence that full-time students are more academically successful when they take 15-18 units per semester than when they take 12-14 units.”

The new policy is focused around this “evidence,” as well as the idea that higher class standing cutoffs will encourage students to enroll in at least 15 units each semester.

As far I can tell, though, this doesn’t really change the system – even if this encourages enrollment in 15 units, a freshman who enters such a system will still have freshman status when they try to enroll in March for their second-year classes, since they will only have 15 units completed – earned, if you will. This student won’t be allowed to register as a sophomore until he or she enrolls for the classes in the second semester of their second year. Meanwhile, a student who sticks to a 12-unit regimen his or her first semester – which, I will point out, was repeatedly encouraged by orientation leaders as the appropriate course load for students to help them “ease into” the college atmosphere and work ethic – will not be able to register with a sophomore standing until they are enrolling for classes for the first semester of their third year; which, under most circumstances, is considered one’s “junior” year.

This seems to deny a long-standing reality that when you register for classes, you aren’t registering as you currently stand – you are registering as you will stand by the time those classes are actually taken. Thus, students taking a prerequisite course (say, Basic Microeconomics) are allowed to register for a course requiring said prerequisite (Intermediate Micro), even if that student hasn’t yet passed the course. If they fail the prerequisite, that fact will ultimately come to light, and the student won’t be allowed to take the advanced course. In summary, we register as we will be, not as we are. It’s an inefficiency, certainly, but it’s far less inefficient than waiting until the end of the year, and then letting the horse-race begin.

While the ostensible reason is to encourage 15-unit consumption (and yes, it would be nice to see this evidence of Mr. Hogle’s), an advisor that actually deals with these sorts of requirements offers a more common-sense justification:

Celia O’Brien, academic advisor for the department of psychology, said that it would be questionable to assume that this policy change would cause students to take longer to earn their degree.

“This policy change is essentially just spreading out the class standing classification more evenly throughout those 120 units,” O’Brien said via email. “What it may do is cut down the time that any student is classified as a senior.”

Very understandable, but I think that there’s a more reasonable approach to encourage this – grant class standing within the major, rather than on the basis of pure credits alone. This solves the strawman problem in which a sixth-year senior has just decided that his communications major just isn’t working out, and that he wants to try political science. Such a student should be considered a freshman as far as registration is concerned. As far as I know, this is not University policy, but I’m willing to be corrected on this point. To implement such a model would require a more decentralized registration system – an approach, I believe, that would be far more efficient and allow for more experimentation, and for regisration systems that take into account the idiosyncracies that plague registration for different majors.

All of this aside, the goal of evening out the status distribution undercuts the other proposal put forth by the administration:

Along with the class standing changes, UA faculty and administrators have recently proposed changes to the Grade Replacement Opportunity policy.

Under the proposed GRO policy, undergraduates may only use the Grade Replacement Opportunity to repeat courses in which they received a D or E. Students will no longer be able to GRO a grade of C.

Also, only freshmen, sophomores, or students who have completed fewer than 60 credits, may GRO a course. Juniors and seniors will still be able to repeat a course but will not be able to replace the grade.

The problem with this, of course, is that more students will have a lower classification because of the earlier policy; the GRO situation has not been solved, but rather has been shifted. A junior who was formerly hogging class space for his grade-changing GRO will now be considered a “sophomore” under this new policy, and will thus be able to do exactly what he would have done under the former regime.

Really, though, the only legitimate reasons for a GRO are extenuating ones – family deaths, serious accidents, and what not. Such circumstances can easily be explained before a committee, who should explain beforehand the higher standard that must be met to engage in a GRO. Right now, according to the Registrar’s site, the only offered reasons for the refusal of a GRO are administrative. To significantly diminish GRO abuse, these standards must be made more stringent.

On a final note, it’s a bit odd to see that an interim official is proposing a rather dramatic change in the university’s administration. Regardless of his merits, this seems like a decision that you would want to hold off on until a full-time hire was made. At the very least, the final proposal should be offered by someone else within the UA’s vast academic bureaucracy.


5 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 23 February 2009 at 11:54 pm

    “There is evidence that full-time students are more academically successful when they take 15-18 units per semester than when they take 12-14 units.”

    Correlation does not mean causation, Mr. Hogle. Those students taking a heavier class load are probably more motivated and thus more likely to have success. Also, they’re less likely to have one bad class grade completely tank their semester GPA.

  2. dissentofthedeacon said, on 24 February 2009 at 12:28 am

    “…grant class standing within the major, rather than on the basis of pure credits alone.”

    I wonder if this proposal wouldn’t lead to much more ambiguity and beaurocratic confusion within and between departments, especially in the case of your sixth-year senior’s change of heart. Does the fact that he has almost completed a communication degree but has yet to begin a second in political science mean that he has two separate class standings, one for each major? Or take the case of a first year pre-journalism major. She’s naturally withheld from actual journalism classes until her second year, so how would the registration process – necessarily apart from any departmental major – work in conjunction with her electives and general education courses? Each case highlights what seems to me to be a call for a much more complex and individualized registration system, which, while an admirable goal, strikes me as being tough to implement.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 24 February 2009 at 8:21 am

      Yes, such a student would be a communications “senior” and a poli. sci. “freshman.” This does make it difficult to switch majors, but that’s much of the point of the policy.

      It’s also worth remembering that the main impact of a major-by-major registration system would be an overall lowering of class status, as Ms. O’Brien mentioned. So while more people would find themselves holding lower class standings, there’d also be less upperclassmen to swipe their classes from them.

      General education is tough, and I think that it might be worthwhile for the university to expand the classes approved for general education (wait, did I hear. . .modules?), and by doing so make the completion of general education a prerequisite for most majors (in order to prevent senior abuse).

  3. Jesse Gunsch said, on 24 February 2009 at 11:11 am

    A question on the GRO policy change: are there still clauses to allow for when students *need* A’s or B’s? I know for some programs (Engineering, Computer Science) you’re required to have B’s or higher in certain classes (beginning calculus and programming) before being able to proceed into the major. It’d be a shame to keep students out for that.

  4. […] have been misheard, but if true is worrysome, considering that the Undergraduate Council has been pushing to increase the base freshman course-load from 12 to 15 […]

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